Russia Hysteria Makes Conflagration In Syria More Likely

Last week, a new round of U.S. military personnel were deployed to Syria. (Recall that the ongoing anti-ISIS offensive was initially sold by Obama in 2014 as purely humanitarian in scope, with “limited” intentions, and never to necessitate “boots on the ground.” All those assurances proved false.) That additional U.S. forces would be sent to Syria isn’t surprising: most signs point to Trump largely continuing the Obama policy of incremental escalation both there and in Iraq, perhaps with some adjustments allowing the Generals freer rein. And so, while most of the media class spent the past several days shrieking and wailing about phantom tax returns, the U.S. once again increases its military presence in the Middle East — an occurrence so expected and banal at this point that hardly anyone even bats an eye. More troops deployed to hyper-volatile Muslim-majority country with no clear strategic goals and an ill-defined mandate? Ho-hum.

If there’s anything notable about this particular deployment, it’s the implications with respect to Russia. You’d have to cut through a whirlwind of media noise to ever find the story, but the Military Times has reported that approximately 100 Army Rangers are now stationed in Manbij with an ostensible mission to “keep the peace” between Syrian Kurdish forces and forces loyal to Turkey. As if attempting to play “peacekeeper” in the midst of complex foreign strife wasn’t a fraught enough task on its own, also stationed in Manbij at the moment are Russian troops. Hence the Military Times headline: “U.S. and Russian troops are now in the same Syrian city.” In a sane media environment, this development would be blaring lead news everywhere, but instead it’s been almost completely drowned out by relative trivialities.

The precariousness of the Manbij situation should be obvious. The tenuous multi-lateral cooperation there has been made possible by talks between high-ranking U.S. and Russia military officials. Meanwhile, domestic U.S. political dynamics are conspiring to pressure Trump into adopting a more antagonistic line toward Russia, so as to prove that he hasn’t been “compromised” by the Kremlin or whatever the latest outlandish accusation might be. Should Trump capitulate and start saber-rattling, it could very feasibly lead to the breakdown of these delicate communication channels; with the two countries’ forces in such close physical proximity — now in the same city — the likelihood for a mishap, miscommunication, or incident-gone-wrong has undoubtedly increased. The history of the Cold War shows that the world was led to the brink of nuclear catastrophe purely as a result of random blunders.

The danger of Democrats unrelentingly promoting Russia hysteria has never principally been that it makes them look foolish, fosters paranoia and conspiracy thinking, and discourages rationality — although all those things are also true. Most dangerous is that such hysteria actively makes cataclysmic military confrontation far more likely, as is currently on display in Manjib. It would only take one infelicitous incident for the situation to fly completely off the rails. Should something go wrong — say, Russian forces mistakenly fire on U.S. troops — the onus has been put on Trump to retaliate aggressively, lest he be accused of putting Russian interests ahead of Americans’. That’s such a perverse incentive, especially for Trump, whose most belligerent instincts should ideally be moderated rather than exacerbated. Democrats have idiotically chosen the “exacerbating” route, and in all likelihood this is not going to end well.

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