Our fight in Syria is not the Iraq war

Our fight in Syria is not the Iraq war
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This is not 2003. And it’s not even 2011. Donald Trump is not George W. Bush. And he is most definitely not Barack Obama. Comparisons of today’s crisis in Syria with our decision to invade Iraq, or to precipitously pull out our troops, are fatally flawed and functionally irrelevant.

President Bush invaded Iraq and forcibly removed its government, with the peak of our deployment exceeding 160,000 troops four years later. Then, in 2011, President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaDems punch back over GOP holdup of Biden SBA nominee Biden congratulates Trudeau for winning third term as Canadian prime minister Republicans have moral and financial reasons to oppose raising the debt ceiling MORE, citing his administration’s failure to obtain a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government, withdrew our forces in an ideologically-driven decision that helped set the conditions for the rise of the Islamic State.

Neither of these historic facts apply to the challenge faced by President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE, especially after the chemical attack in Douma this weekend, nor do they help us to map the consequences of taking the wrong strategic decision. This is because the geostrategic conditions in 2003 and 2011 are fundamentally different from those that pertain to Syria today.

Many of my conservative friends are concerned that President Trump is about to launch a new “neoconservative” crusade in Syria mirroring Bush’s in Iraq. That, I can assure you will never happen, for two simple reasons. First, Syria in 2018 is not Iraq in 2003. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had few true friends after Sept. 11, 2001, and was hated as much by the Shia of Iran as by the Sunnis in terror groups such as Al Qaeda. He was alone.

Conversely, Syria’s Bashar Assad is a dictator who is friends with other dictatorial regimes and the client of geopolitical actors who want him to stay in power. This includes Iran, Russia and even China. For this reason alone, any invasion and scenario of regime-change in Damascus is off the table until these states lose interest in propping up Assad. At the moment Vladimir Putin, Beijing and the mullahs of Tehran have given no indication that they will desert him.

The second reason has less to do with current geopolitics and much more to do with the current commander-in-chief’s belief system and innate strategic sense. Having worked in his White House and observed his iconoclastic influence on the policymaking machine he inherited, I can attest to the fact that President Trump has no neoconservative reflexes when it comes to the utility and purpose of America’s armed forces. And I mean none.

In fact, this was apparent to me the very first day we met in the summer of 2015, long before he became president, when he asked me to assist in his preparations for the national security debate for GOP candidates that fall. During our first discussion in Trump Tower, it became instantly clear that for Donald Trump, invading other nations and occupying them is fundamentally un-American, born as our nation was in the rejection of imperialism and colonialism.

As his social media posts in the last 24 hours demonstrate, the president is aware and prepared to call out Assad and his supporters for their evil character. But that still does not mean he is George Bush or that this is 2003 and we have to prepare for another naive neocon misadventure. So what is the morally correct response President Trump should give which is, at the same time, strategically sound and true to an “America First” agenda which wants to have our troops more often at home than abroad?

Donald Trump is a patriotic American and a pragmatist at one and the same time. Right now he is incensed by what we have all seen happen in Syria and he has the intelligence at his disposal to know that Assad and his forces are the perpetrators. He will act. But not in any fashion that the beltway “elite” — who have failed us for more than 20 years — expect.

With Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman Mattis20 years after 9/11, we've logged successes but the fight continues Defense & National Security — The mental scars of Afghanistan House panel advances 8B defense bill MORE at the Pentagon, Mike PompeoMike PompeoWashPost fact-checker gives Pompeo four 'Pinocchios' for 'zombie' claim about Obama Iran deal Poll: Biden, Trump statistically tied in favorability Majority of voters disapprove of execution of Afghanistan withdrawal: poll MORE still at the helm at the CIA, and former United Nations ambassador John Bolton starting work today as the new national security adviser, he has a team which can think beyond the false dichotomy of large-scale interventionism and unrealistic isolationism which has so pathetically defined the national security debate in Washington for too long.

The president will take action very soon. But like the preternaturally instinctual actor that he is, he will not telegraph his actions in advance, nor should he. Part of his response will be overt, declarative and utterly convincing for all the world to see. The rest of his response will be covert, unconventional and leave both Assad and his masters guessing as to what happens next. Those measures will target the dictator, his elite circle and his international friends in ways that may not involve tens of thousands of troops, but they will hurt. As they should.

In 2014, Russia broke an international taboo that had been in place since the allies rolled into Berlin in 1945, namely that nations must never use force to annex the territory of their neighbors. The Obama administration failed to respond in a fashion commensurate to the enormity of the Kremlin’s breach. Assad, and by association his sponsors, have shown the world that they believe chemical weapons may be used against unarmed civilians. For the sake of civilization they must all be disabused of this belief. And they will be.

Sebastian GorkaSebastian Lukacs GorkaGreitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP YouTube bans Sebastian Gorka's channel after repeated violations Lou Dobbs retweets supporters blasting decision to cancel show MORE, Ph.D., is a national security strategist with Fox News and former deputy assistant and strategist to President Trump. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War.” You can follow him on Twitter @SebGorka.