Clinton: No US ground troops in Iraq, Syria; Trump: Steal Iraqi Oil

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The NBC Candidates Forum continued the shameful corporate coverage of the Great American Meltdown that is our election season. That season has given us a Faux Cable News that runs clips of only one side and pays out hush money to cover up how its blonde anchors were not so much hired as trafficked; a CNN that has hired a paid employee of the candidate as a consultant and analyst; and networks that won’t mention climate change or carbon emissions the same way they won’t mention labor unions. They aren’t even trying to do journalism any more– cable “news” is mostly infotainment as a placeholder between ads for toilet paper. I can’t bear to watch it most of the time and just read the news on the Web. If I have to watch t.v. I turn on local news (often does a better job on national stories too) or Alarabiya and Aljazeera, which for all their faults do actually have real news (and their faults cancel out one another). I can always get the transcript for the cable news shows; reading it is faster and less painful than having to watch.

The NBC Forum didn’t really challenge either candidate on implausible statements, but on the whole engaged in a lot of badgering of Hillary Clinton while letting Donald Trump get away with outright misstatements of the facts and tossing him a lot of softballs.

The big Middle East questions for Clinton came from military personnel and veterans and concerned Iraq and Syria. She also got an Iran question.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, as an Army veteran, a commander-in- chief’s to empathize with servicemembers and their families is important to me. The ability to truly understand implications and consequences of your decisions, actions, or inactions. How will you determine when and where to deploy troops directly into harm’s way, especially to combat ISIS?

LAUER: As briefly as you can.

CLINTON: We have to defeat ISIS. That is my highest counterterrorism goal. And we’ve got to do it with air power. We’ve got to do it with much more support for the Arabs and the Kurds who will fight on the ground against ISIS. We have to squeeze them by continuing to support the Iraqi military. They’ve taken back Ramadi, Fallujah. They’ve got to hold them. They’ve got to now get into Mosul.

We’re going to work to make sure that they have the support — they have special forces, as you know, they have enablers, they have surveillance, intelligence, reconnaissance help.

They are not going to get ground troops. We are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again. And we’re not putting ground troops into Syria. We’re going to defeat ISIS without committing American ground troops. So those are the kinds of decisions we have to make on a case-by-case basis.

So that’s the headline: Hillary Clinton pledges no ground troops in Iraq or Syria. She doesn’t seem to understand that President Obama has recreated the Iraq Command and has 4,000 or so troops there. There are 250 embedded with the far-left Kurdish YPG in northeast Syria. So is she saying she would pull those troops out? Or that they aren’t ground troops?

Plus she started by saying she will defeat ISIL (though it may be already defeated territorially before she ever gets into office). She says she will defeat it from the air and give support to the Iraqi Army.

From the point of view of military strategy, nothing she said makes any sense. You can’t defeat a guerrilla group from the air. So far no force on the ground has been willing to go after ISIL in its Syrian lair, al-Raqqa. How would she change all that?

As for supporting the Iraqi army, it collapsed in 2014 and only one really good brigade has been retrained and shown effectiveness. None of the cities she mentioned it taking would have fallen to it without extensive help from Shiite militias, many of which are tight with Iran. So if she is going to intervene from the air, she is going to have to support pro-Iranian irregulars, not just the Iraqi army.

Nor is it clear that the Iraqi Army and its Shiite auxiliaries can truly defeat Daesh/ ISIL. Yes, they can take territory. But a lot of Sunni Arabs are frustrated with the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad and they are not going to be less frustrated if they feel they have traded Daesh rule for Shiite militia rule.

Iraqi Shiites have a profound blind spot to their own sectarianism, having occupied the space of “the national” in Iraq and claimed it for themselves. They are in denial about how much the Sunni Arabs collaborated with Daesh to get away from Shiite rule. While it is true that many Sunni Arabs were happy to be rescued from Daesh by the Iraqi Army, it is not clear that any of the promises of Baghdad to put money into cities like Ramadi and Fallujah will be honored.

As for Iran, she stood by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that pledges Iran only to enrich uranium for civilian purposes.

“LAUER: Do you think they’re playing us?

CLINTON: On the nuclear issue, no. I think we have enough insight into what they’re doing to be able to say we have to distrust but verify. What I am focused on is all the other malicious activities of the Iranians — ballistic missiles, support for terrorists, being involved in Syria, Yemen, and other places, supporting Hezbollah, Hamas.

But here’s the difference, Matt. I would rather as president be dealing with Iran on all of those issues without having to worry as much about their racing for a nuclear weapon. So we have made the world safer; we just have to make sure it’s enforced.

It is not clear to me what terrorists she thinks Iran is supporting. Hezbollah doesn’t function as a terrorist organization but as the national guard for Shiite-majority south Lebanon. Israel annexed south Lebanon in 1982 after launching a brutal war of aggression that may have left 90,000 dead. Hizbullah grew up as a resistance movement to that aggression and that occupation, both of which the United States government tacitly supported. We all know exactly what Israelis would do if someone tried to occupy 10% of Israel as it is now constituted. So why call Lebanese who resist occupation ‘terrorists’? Except, if you rather like the idea of Israel occupying neighboring Arabs?

As for Hamas, Iran and it haven’t had good relations since Hamas broke with Tehran to support the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (they bet on the wrong horse). Besides, demonizing Hamas is silly. The Gaza Strip is a large outdoor concentration camp kept that way by the Israelis and the inmates under such conditions are likely to stage prison riots from time to time. End the occupation, Hamas might go away. There wasn’t any Hamas in Gaza to speak of anyway until the Israelis themselves covertly built it up in the 1980s as an alternative to the secular PLO.

The Iranians are not involved in any meaningful way in Yemen, which is beset by internal struggles between the deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh (an Arab nationalist that Mrs. Clinton used to support) and his vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, with the Saudis having come in on the side of the latter (they used to support Saleh). True, Saleh has allied with a Zaidi militia, the Houthis, but Zaidism is a completely different kind of Shiism than in Iran and Iran is not a big player in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, which is indiscriminately bombing civilian infrastructure in Yemen like bridges and hospitals, is the meddling party, not Iran. Over a hundred thousand residents of the capital, Sanaa, demonstrated recently against the Saudis. Not even one was an Iranian.

It is truly scary that this is Clinton’s take on Yemen.

As for Syria, I also criticize Iran for propping up the genocidal al-Assad regime. But the forces backed by the Saudis in conjunction with the US CIA are just as bad; some of them are worse.

And besides, we just decided that she needs pro-Iranian Shiite militias if she is going to have someone to give close air support to in the fight against Daesh.

These talking points on Iran may as well have been written for Clinton jointly by Bibi Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman. They bear no resemblance to an American grand strategy that would make sense for American interests.

So I don’t think she has a realistic way of intervening effectively in the Middle East (air power is useless in these kinds of struggles), and I fear she is so biased against Iran that she will end up de facto undermining the JCPOA and thence alienating the only effective set of potential regional allies against Daesh.

She also doesn’t say what she will do when air power fails to defeat Daesh.

As for The Donald, I don’t know if there is a lot of point in analyzing what he says, since he will say the opposite things tomorrow.

On Middle East issues, Trump said:

“President Obama took over, likewise, it was a disaster. It was actually somewhat stable. I don’t think could ever be very stable to where we should have never gone into in the first place.

But he came in. He said when we go out — and he took everybody out. And really, ISIS was formed. This was a terrible decision. And frankly, we never even got a shot. And if you really look at the aftermath of Iraq, Iran is going to be taking over Iraq. They’ve been doing it. And it’s not a pretty picture.

The — and I think you know — because you’ve been watching me I think for a long time — I’ve always said, shouldn’t be there, but if we’re going to get out, take the oil. If we would have taken the oil, you wouldn’t have ISIS, because ISIS formed with the power and the wealth of that oil.

LAUER: How were we going to take the oil? How were we going to do that?

TRUMP: Just we would leave a certain group behind and you would take various sections where they have the oil. They have — people don’t know this about Iraq, but they have among the largest oil reserves in the world, in the entire world.”

Iraq was not stable in 2011; it was being regularly blown up by terrorists. Obama’s withdrawal of US troops did not destabilize it. That had already happened. There was no way for US troops to stay there since the Iraqi parliament would not vote them immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts.

Trump’s ridiculous suggestion that the US should have found a way to steal Iraq’s petroleum, apparently by establishing a mercenary force at the Rumayla fields near Basra, is so preposterous that even Matt Lauer timidly and briefly questioned it.

The proposition that if the US had in fact managed to steal Iraq’s petroleum fields for itself that would have calmed the country down and prevented the rise of ISIL is so absurd that there are no words to describe how absurd it is. It is actually more absurd than any of Sarah Palin’s word salads.

It is like a presidential candidate saying that we’d have much better relations with Norway, and that country would be more stable, if the United States hired local mercenaries to occupy its oil fields and siphon of their profits to US banks. (Sounds properly absurd when you put it in the context of white people, doesn’t it?)

Then there was this:

“TRUMP: Hey, Matt, again, she made a mistake on Libya. She made a terrible mistake on Libya. And the next thing, I mean, not only did she make the mistake, but then they complicated the mistake by having no management once they bombed you know what out of Gadhafi. I mean, she made a terrible mistake on Libya. And part of it was the management aftereffect. I think that we have great management talents, great management skills. “

Trump supported the Libyan intervention at the time. In fact, he was outraged before the intervention that there hadn’t been one according to Politifact:

“”I can’t believe what our country is doing,” Trump said, according to a BuzzFeed transcript. “Gaddafi in Libya is killing thousands of people, nobody knows how bad it is, and we’re sitting around we have soldiers all have the Middle East, and we’re not bringing them in to stop this horrible carnage and that’s what it is: It’s a carnage.”

Matt Laurer didn’t challenge any of Trump’s lies about his past positions, and his journalistic reputation suffered badly for it last night.

Trump also said that Russia wants to defeat Daesh/ ISIL as badly as the US does and there should be more cooperation between the two. But in fact, Daesh doesn’t pose that big a danger to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, since it is out in the eastern desert. So Russia is not in fact that interested in it, since it is in Syria to prop up al-Assad. Russia wants to destroy the Syrian Army of Conquest or Nusra Front, the leader of which is an al-Qaeda operative. The US complains that the fundamentalist militias vetted by the CIA are cooperating too closely with al-Qaeda for it to be possible to separate the two out in bombing raids. Actually I’d say that if the militias you support are so intertwined with al-Qaeda that they’d get hit if al-Qaeda was bombed, then you haven’t done a very good job of vetting.

Then Trump went on to heap praise on Vladimir Putin and to call him a better leader than President Obama. He kept saying Putin had called Trump “brilliant,” which he didn’t (not sure if praise from an old KGB operator is high praise or just manipulative).

Lauer was criticized for letting Trump get away without answering any substantial questions about his Middle East policy.

It was a low, wretched performance, by the network and both candidates, full of fluff and posturing and Alice in Wonderland statements of policy along with an almost complete derogation of authority by the anchors. It marked a low point in our national discourse about world politics.


Related video:

The Young Turks: “NBC Presidential Forum: The Young Turks Summary”

24 Responses

  1. This is how it went in 2000.

    The media did a big swing to the right.

    Al Gore couldn’t be trusted, just like Hillary can’t be trusted.
    Same Rove-Alies strategy by the GOP..

  2. It seems to me no bad thing to let them rabbit on like that. It exposes the reality of the bleak choice US democracy has before it, and might make a few think seriously about how that has come about and the level of responsibility they might themselves bear for it. Besides, for an anchor like Lauer to pose challenging questions pre-supposes that there exists some more coherent way for the US to pursue the goal of subduing all mankind with its exceptionalism when it is the patent absurdity of persisting in such a purpose that creates the difficulties the ME faces, particularly when the results of the endeavour are of no benefit to ordinary Americans whose security, economic stability, freedom, and confidence have diminished the while; it would be like seeking their policies for swimming up Everest. Dr Cole refers to their Alice in Wonderland statements. Or Alice through the Looking Glass?

    The Red Queen shook her head, ‘You may call it “nonsense” if you like,’ she said, ‘but I’ve heard nonsense, compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary!’

    • “It seems to me no bad thing…..” Sorry to say, I don’t think that’s how American politics work. Particularly in this election, it’s going the other way: a lot of people are dumbing down to justify voting for Trump.

  3. Professor, everything you report an say in your interesting piece, screams out “come back Saddam” “come back Gadaffi” and keep at it Assad, all is forgiven” ! The old proverb “let sleeping dogs lie” is a good one when it comes to spreading democracy to places that have no real use for it. Then there is the other proverb, “the devil you know is better than……………..

  4. Anderson Cooper has a great segment in which one general says….”Taking oil is good idea if you lived in the 16th century.” Another comment….” Iraq is now our ally are 16 million Iraqis going to stand by and watch us take their oil. Trump is a businessman, maybe he has it figured out. I personally cannot wrap my mind around it.”

    link to

  5. HRC is bright, incredibly well-connected and well-prepared, at least in the sense of being bought and paid for. So, its no surprise her talking points could’ve been written by Bibi and Salman: they effectively were. The same is impossible not to see with the issue of financial reform, albeit she is being managed with a more subtle hand. In fact, a fine case could be made that she is the most compromised and fettered presidencial candidate we’ve ever had, certainly in the last 100 years.

    OTOH, Trump is nothing other than that rich, belligerent blow-hard down at the end of the bar.

    Here’s a thought: HRC knows the system. She can and will work it for her masters (notice the effectiveness of Obama, possible the LEAST compromised president in memory). Trump is not so compromised. He questions assumptions; he’ll shake things up, but only to the extent he can, and that’s key. Because the checks and balances of the various bureaucracies CAN effectively neuter or otherwise manage someone that uninformed and inexperienced.

    First, do no harm. Institutional momentum can be dangerous, but when effectively managed by someone who is as totally comprised as HRC?

    Once you get past how appalling Trump is as a person and representative of the US in the world, the actual prognosis of his presidency may be better than with Clinton.

    • Trump in power will not be neutered by the checks and balances. He’ll be all the more dangerous because he doesn’t have the institutional support or the know how to work within the system. In order to maintain any momentum at all he will have to subject the nation and the world to a continuous series of alarms and distractions—that’s how he won the nomination if you’ll recall. People whose idea of politics comes from watching movies think that shaking things up is a positive, but most ways of shaking things up leave them in ruins. Doesn’t anybody read history any more?

      • The more I think of it the more I think there’s something to this. The way Trump is alienating people he wouldn’t be able to get as much as a reasonable ham sandwich out of the White House kitchen. Assuming the institutions, including the kitchen as a very legitimate example, retain their self-respect, he stands to be totally hamstrung by the foot-dragging and mis-understandings. It’s also true that the only “real” power, approaching the sort of dictatorial stuff falsely attributed to the presidency, resides around extreme executive action/foreign policy action, but he’d have to find and empower enough well-informed and experienced supplicants to even pull that off. OTOH, Hitler managed adequately with the German general staff, so Trump’s election would hardly be a reason for complacency.

        Before this thread closes, I notice how HRC bailed on a 911 event for….Pneumonia???? Don’t think this thing is in the bag for her just because everyone agrees The Donald is a buffoon. The lesson of history, world and personal, is that in circumstances involving the heaviest of stakes and the strongest of wills seeking to manage events, absolutely anything can happen within the space of 60 days.

  6. 10 years ago, in Israel for my nephews bar mitzvah, I spent some time in the West Bank. My informal survey of their preferred news outlets was the same as Juan, AlJazeera and Alarabiya. (yes, I’m a nosey gringo)

  7. Forget about the MSM, it’s shameless.
    As to candidates, the central issue is the Hole (read war): Clinton (Foreign agent?) goes for more digging; Trump (American buffoon?) wana stop the digging.
    The rest is MSM created trivia to divert the attention from the central issue: war/peace.

  8. The less said about Trump’s “foreign policy” the better, but Hillary Clinton has been associated with politics practically all her adult life. She served eight years as the first lady, followed by eight years as senator and four years as secretary of state. This is also the second time that she has run for president. For her to have such one-sided and simplistic notions of foreign policy is not only strange, but alarming. When some right-wing Republican neocons, such as the main architect of the Iraq War Paul Wolfowitz and the brain behind the surge in Iraq Robert Kagan are supporting Hillary Clinton and have said that they would vote for her, it says something about her policies. Hillary Clinton has been described as a “Wolfowitz in sheep’s clothing”.

    The fact that many of her backers and financiers are fanatical pro-Israeli tycoons has clouded her judgment. There are many of us who are sympathetic towards Israel and would like to see her continue in safety and security, but only in keeping with democratic principles and allowing the establishment of a viable Palestinian state on the occupied Palestinian territory. However, I find her blind devotion to Israel excessive and dangerous for other countries in the Middle East.

    During her speech at the Democratic Convention, when she turned to foreign policy, her first sentence was that her administration would ensure the security of Israel, as though the security of the nuclear-armed Israel is in imminent danger and that it was the most important issue on the face of the earth, despite all the major crises in the Middle East, US tension with Russia and China and a whole host of other important international issues. Hillary Clinton could make a great American president provided she could see beyond Israel and could pursue a foreign policy worthy of the only remaining superpower in the world.

  9. After reading this, I think Professor Cole is doing something similar to what he criticizes at the first–badgering Hillary Clinton and down playing Trump’s shortcomings. He spends as much space here on criticizing her policies as he does on Trump’s outright idiocies. For example, his criticism of Clinton’s anti-terrorism policy is terribly flawed. First, Lauer cautions her to be brief, so she cannot spend a lot of time going into the details, nor can a candidate do that and expect the average voter to pay attention. When she talks of the Iraqi Army I’m pretty sure she recognizes its limitations, but under that title I feel certain that if she were asked by someone like Professor Cole in a forum like this she would explain that meant the Iraqi Army coalition that included the militias and the Kurdish forces. Anyone with her experience would know the difference. That coalition did take back Fallujah and has reduced ISIS territory by about half. And Professor Cole’s criticism that air power cannot defeat a terrorist or guerilla group is correct. However, ISIS in its present incarnation has been holding territory and operating as a proto-state. Further, Clinton is talking about air power as a tactical support for the ground forces which is altogether different from what Professor Cole is talking about.Tactical air support is critical in defeating a ground army, as Israel demonstrated in 1967 and 1973. As for Iran and terrorists, it is widely believed that the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina is linked to Hizbollah and Iran. Also, the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon is generally accepted as a Hizbollah operation. Finally, as regards to ground troops in Syria and Iraq, I am sure she meant fighting forces vs. advisers. Again, one must consider the venue and forum when assessing her answer. I am sure she knows the difference, but couldn’t take the time to explain the difference. And this is not a fair criticism, since the death toll among US advisers is a small fraction of what it would be if they were fighting soldiers. Since Obama re-inserted the advisers I think we have had two US advisers killed, one by a sniper during an Iraqi attack and another by artillery at a support base. Now I am not here to defend all of Clinton’s policies as I disagree with a number of them and have done so in the past. But the difference between the problems with the respective policies of the two candidates, to use a legal metaphor, is like a ticket for speeding vs. a serious felony like attempted murder. Trump is so outrageously uninformed and shows such bad judgment (really, take the Iraqi oil?) that he deserved to be hooted off the stage. Add to that that he consistently lies about his past positions and there is no comparison between the two candidates.

    • If US enters a civil war on one side or another, it deserves to be attacked. Hezbollah and Hamas are freedom-fighters, NOT terrorists.

  10. The notion of “taking the oil” is absurd. Iraq is already producing as much as it can. It would take an enormous investment in oilfields, pipelines and port facilities to significantly increase production. Where would you put it, since storage facilities are already full? If you just dumped it on the world market it would further depress prices an bankrupt the oil industry.

  11. Overall, a very poorly conceived and terribly conducted event. Just what you would expect from what now passes as our MSM. Murrow and Cronkite must be turning in their graves over the state of journalism.

  12. Speaking of climate change, which should be one of the major issues of this campaign, the damage from two major storms in August in the Arctic is now very apparent. There’s a detailed and startling picture of the damage to the Arctic in the Ice Forum (go to the link below and scroll down to the second picture which shows the Arctic at this time of year from 2012 to 2016):

    link to

    It’s ironic that Trump talks about stealing oil from Iraq when the oil age needs to end as quickly as possible. Nor does Trump understand that some of the turmoil in Syria and other places can be traced to the droughts almost certainly caused by global warming.

  13. as long as no ground troops get killed, they are not really there. as long as no ground troops get killed, we are not at war even if we are bombing several countries simultaneously. if we are not at war, no congressional approval or united nations approval is necessarry.

  14. Of course all troops are on the ground. I suspect that Ms. Clinton meant no division-sized units with tanks and artillery.

  15. MSNBC is as shut down as Fox is when it comes to their candidate Hillary Clinton, Rachel Maddow, O’Donnell etc never really question Hillary’s war record, ties to Wall Street, etc, Never

    Trump is unpredictable. Hillary is predictable,,,,a proven and deadly war hawk. Terrible choices

  16. Matthew de Lellis

    Really ,Juan,…WHY aren’t YOU the Presidential Adviser on the Middle East?..WHO out there is more knowledgeable and authoritative? I don’t get it. Whoever the next President is ought to be bringing you in for that job,…if of course you would want it, and I can understand why you might not want it. The nation ,however, NEEDS people like you to help guide us out of the mess we’re in over there. Perhaps what is wrong cannot be fixed, and perhaps we ought not to be the ones fixing anything. The reality is though, that we have been exerting influence in the region for a long time now and given all the other influences and factions involved, its time we decided on on more effective course of action. I don’t either Trump or Hillary with a real clue about what to do and how to do it, when it comes to dealing with that part of the world. Both are just more of the same and none of that has really been working for us.

    • No one who is critical of Israel’s Apartheid and appropriation project in the Palestinian West Bank would ever be confirmed by the US Congress.

  17. This televisual farce belies any residual the claim that there is any animating democratic spirit left in the actually existing duopolistic American presidential electoral process.

  18. MSNBC is as biased as Fox, Just on the Clinton side, Never ever bring up her war record, Comey findings, unwillingness to release Wall Street transcripts, Total Clinton loyalist, Not an unbiased talking head among them. Does not matter to them that Clinton is a die hard war hawk and how many people in the middle east are dead, injured, refugees because of her role in those disasters

  19. Bush was dishonest, weak and immature in lying about the supposed causes of his wars . . . and engaging in a guns-a-blazing invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Clinton appears to be dishonest, weak and sneaky, proudly becoming the new standard-bearer for the neocons and pretending that US aggression doesn’t matter so long as those being killed aren’t Americans. Trump comes across as being too unfamiliar with the concept of morality to care what he says or does; while Johnson is too ignorant to be accused of intent, whether it be good or bad. The only apparent solution is to keep repeating, “Ain’t really my life, ain’t really my life, ain’t really nothing but a movie.”

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