President Trump's new national security adviser, John Bolton, was eager to find a face-saving way to remove Keith Kellogg from his senior role on the National Security Council, three sources with knowledge of the high-level internal conversations tell Axios.Between the lines: When Vice President Mike Pence suggested the idea of taking on Kellogg — a man the president loves — as his national security adviser about a week ago, senior officials including Chief of Staff John Kelly and Bolton viewed it as a “win-win. (The backstory on Pence’s decision to bring on Keith Kellogg).
The Lieutenant General's opinion piece presents a direct and quite interesting defense of what had been perceived in the press to be the final decision that triggered the resignation of Secretary (General Rt.) Mattis. It is grounded on the quite sensible insight that if you can command the definition of a term, you can ensure that whatever it is you claim can fit within that definition. The key term here is "success." The Opinion carefully defines success, molds a history of moving toward the collection of facts that would constitute the attainment of success so defined, fully justifying the action then ordered. This is not the defense of a strategy, or of an integrated policy with a directed mechanics. It is, instead, the calculus of an offense stripped of its context.
Lieutenant Generl (Retired) Kellogg cannot resist starting with a (gratuitous) swipe, not at General Mattis, but at the former President, Barack Obama. Referring to President Trump, the Opinion declares: "He has shown that he will never be a president who talks tough about red lines with little accompanying action." (Kellogg, Opinion). This a reference to President Obama's famously flexible red lines on Syria (which had been widely criticized at the time) (President Obama and the ‘red line’ on Syria’s chemical weapons; Inside the White House During the Syrian 'Red Line' Crisis). In the process, the Lieutenant General (retired) describes the objective--to destroy the Islamic State in Syria.
But this was not a vague objective. It actually could be reduced to three military objectives that could be assessed in "after action reports": "His intent was to retake the caliphate's capital (the Syrian city of Raqqa), defeat its ground forces and put its leaders on the run." And again, the (unnecessary) swiping (in part) at former President Obama ("Trump outlined a strategic effort tailored to minimise American boots on the ground and to succeed where others did not.").
Having set this measure for assessing success, the Opinion was able to declare mission accomplished; "Raqqa is no longer under Islamic State control, the caliphate ended and its remaining senior leaders are hiding in the shadows as we continue to hunt them. When we find them, we will kill them." (Opinion, supra). So, the operation is effectively done, though not quite--but perhaps done enough to claim the three part objective had been met.
That should have been the end of it. But it could not be. The rest of the Opinion attempted a justification.
First. the opinion reminded readers that the United States had undertaken a large share and operational load of this Syrian effort. While it was an American success, it was supported "on the ground from other allies, including France, the UK and Syrian Democratic Forces." (Ibid.).
Second, there is an admission that the fight against terrorism is by no means done, but that the U.S. involvement in that fight with its own troops in Syria is quite done. And then one understand the justification for such a narrow victory--the idea that the war on terrorism is a distraction from other, more important contests ("But we cannot continue to be distracted by protracted conflicts in the Middle East").
Third, aaaaah, well then, by what ought the United States to be distracted? The answer is both direct but odd. The simple answer is Russia, China, and North Korea. Without the slightest reference to the 2017 National Security Strategy, the Opinion appeared to shift two of these from competitor to enemy status. But more importantly, the Opinion revealed a strange military preference in two parts. First it suggested that the United States would choose its own enemies in its own time ("We will fight at places and times of our choosing"). But more importantly, it suggested that at least the writer of this Opinion has little taste for the sort of enemy that the Islamic State and other well organized institutional religious groups pose.
Fourth, the reason for the preference for conflict with "big power" or "nuclear power" bullies, identified by name, then, is telling. It is not just that these are traditional foes who (hopefully) would engage the United States in (for the military of the generation of the Lieutenant General (Retired) at least), but more importantly, because of his sense that those wars could be won, but the war against Middle East terrorism cannot ("protracted wars of the Middle East are a drain on our national blood and treasure." Opinion). And indeed, it appears that Islamic State fighters will be released making a claim to victory all that much harder to maintain (Thousands of ISIS prisoners 'to be RELEASED after Trump pulls out US soldiers').
Fifth, if this is the case, then what the Lieutenant General (Retired) is actually suggesting is that "victory" in Syria is actually a strategic retreat made possible by the fig leaf of attaining the 3 prong narrow objectives identified above. Indeed, the Opinion makes clear that the United States is not prepared for the new warfare now refined by combatant groups in the Middle East ("Perpetual war is not the American way of war. Our people deserve better than constant conflict" Ibid). The Opinion rejects the idea of modern generation warfare in virtually its entirety ("Those who argue that war is a perpetual continuum fail to honour our sacred duty to our military." Ibid). And it suggests a scope of warfare, and the military's role in it that harks back to the 20th century.
Sixth, though the Opinion began with a defense of the Trump Administration's full throated defense of the Syrian "adventure" against the Islamic State, by the time the Opinion reaches this stage in its justification, it appears to abandon that initial position almost in its entirety. It starts by asserting the principle that American military might ought "not be used in little-known or forgotten conflicts that slowly fall away from the national consciousness." (Opinion). And then it explains (again with a swipe at the Obama Administration, though in this case not undeserved) that "[o]ur involvement in Syria has been one such conflict, forgotten by those who ignored the initial warning signs in that country." (Opinion).
Forgotten by those who overlooked the creation of an Islamic State caliphate. Forgotten by those who let its thuggish leaders hide in plain sight. And forgotten by those who halfheartedly committed our armed forces without clear direction or purpose. President Trump did not forget. He led, and under his leadership, we succeeded. It is now time for other stakeholders in the Middle East to take ownership of their security. (Ibid).
Seventh, interestingly, though, in swiping against the Obama Administration, the Opinion swipes against the decision to exit Syria, despite its best efforts to avoid that conclusion. The Opinion goes to some pains to distinguish the situation in Syria, from the threat posed by the Islamic State. And yet, in the process, the Opinion leaves unmentioned the "warning signs in that country" (Ibid). What are those warning signs? The threat that the current Turkish leadership might pose not just to its Kurdish nemesis in Syria, but also in Northern Iraq. Even a year ago the signs were quite clear (Turkey’s Erdogan pledges to uproot ‘terror nests’ in Kurd-controlled Syrian towns; Turkish forces push into Kurdish-controlled Afrin in Syria; Erdogan threatens to 'strangle' new US-backed Syria force). And in the wake of the announcement, those threats have reappeared almost on cue, though for the Americans, that has been recast as seeking Turkish help to eliminate remaining militants (Trump, Erdogan Agree to Coordinate US Pullout From Syria ("Erdogan said late last week that Turkey is postponing an operation against Kurdish forces in Syria in the wake of Trump's decision.")).
Eight, the Opinion leaves little doubt that irregular allies (non state communities and quasi states like Kurdistan) count for nothing in the calculus of the United States. That is an odd position indeed, especially for a nation that prides itself on its leadership of a large number of like minded states on which the United States can call to spill blood and treasure for their shared interests. That hardly seems right. And it points both the the overargument and underargument which ends the Opinion. Indeed, what the Opinion makes clear is that the role of the military in this case, was to intervene quickly, produce a carefully managed set of conditions the attainment of which can be scored a "victory" and then to go away. "It is now time for other stakeholders in the Middle East to take ownership of their security." (Ibid.). Yet left unclear is the extent to which there lingers any American interest--the sort of interest that, perhaps, brought us in to the region in the first place.
Only time will tell whether this vision of American military leadership, or that articulated by General (Retired) Mattis, is in the long term best interest of the United States. And the answer may be muddled by an ineptness in execution that has appeared to dog American military interventions from time to time since the beginning of this century. In the meantime, this vision will put our allies on warning--and may well increase the costs to the United States of bargaining with its allies the next time we require their aid. But then again, the Opinion appears to suggest that the U.S. needs no one's help to protect its interests or assert its leadership role. Only time will tell about that as well.
Opinion: US succeeded in Syria. Now it's time to leave
Ret. Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg
OPINION: The day Donald Trump became commander in chief, he immediately made the effort to destroy the reprehensible Islamic State caliphate in Syria a priority. He has shown that he will never be a president who talks tough about red lines with little accompanying action.
While still a candidate, Trump took a clear-eyed view on the use of military force, including the need to fight the Islamic State on its home ground. His intent was to retake the caliphate's capital (the Syrian city of Raqqa), defeat its ground forces and put its leaders on the run. As president, Trump outlined a strategic effort tailored to minimise American boots on the ground and to succeed where others did not.
The results speak for themselves. Raqqa is no longer under Islamic State control, the caliphate ended and its remaining senior leaders are hiding in the shadows as we continue to hunt them. When we find them, we will kill them.
As a nation, we have borne a large share of the operational load in this effort, including advising, training, fighting, providing logistical support and financing the fight against the Islamic State in Syria.
With support on the ground from other allies, including France, the UK and Syrian Democratic Forces, we have succeeded. It is time to shift the fight to a different footing.
Fighting terrorism in all its forms is a critical mission, and we are not abandoning that fight. But we cannot continue to be distracted by protracted conflicts in the Middle East.
We will fight at places and times of our choosing. We face larger existential threats to our nation in the form of a resurgent Russia, expanding Chinese interference and the continued threat from North Korea. These threats to our nation are clear, while protracted wars of the Middle East are a drain on our national blood and treasure.
Perpetual war is not the American way of war. Our people deserve better than constant conflict. Those who argue that war is a perpetual continuum fail to honour our sacred duty to our military. Wars should be the exception, not the norm; our men and women in uniform need to know they will be used when needed and supported to their fullest. They will not be used in little-known or forgotten conflicts that slowly fall away from the national consciousness.
Our involvement in Syria has been one such conflict, forgotten by those who ignored the initial warning signs in that country. We were slow to pick up that Islamic State leadership had moved to Syria after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the creation of the caliphate in 2014.
Forgotten by those who overlooked the creation of an Islamic State caliphate. Forgotten by those who let its thuggish leaders hide in plain sight. And forgotten by those who halfheartedly committed our armed forces without clear direction or purpose. President Trump did not forget. He led, and under his leadership, we succeeded. It is now time for other stakeholders in the Middle East to take ownership of their security.
Trump has not forgotten the defence of our nation nor the wonderful men and women who serve. He has not forgotten his duty to them, working to ensure that the defense budget was increased, not cut. He has not forgotten to provide our troops with the best equipment, the best training and fair compensation.
When committed to action, he provides commanders wide latitude and full support. He has not forgotten to hold the Department of Veterans Affairs accountable for taking care of our troops after they have served. He will never forget the quiet dignity of that sobering moment when he received a fallen service member at Dover Air Force Base. And he will never forget to honour our great young men and women in uniform.
We are not abandoning the fight - far from it. We are recommitting ourselves to what is best for America, our citizens and the most precious resource we have: our men and women in uniform.