Mike Cernovich, the lawyer-turned-guerilla-journalist who broke the Susan Rice story a few weeks ago has come out with another bombshell. In the wake of President Trump’s successful strike against Syrian ruler, Bashar al-Assad’s airfield, Cernovich is claiming that former Army General H.R. McMaster (now the Trump National Security Adviser) has a covert plan to place upwards of 150,000 American troops into Syria.
First, let me just say that while this is not an impossibility, given the constraints of America’s current force, this is an unlikely claim. Second, while Cernovich was certainly correct about the Susan Rice wiretapping story (and I believe he was unfairly castigated for being completely “#FakeNews”) there is little doubt that he has gotten it wrong before. After all, Mr. Cernovich was the man who was a key purveyor of the #PizzaGate story that claimed Hillary Clinton and several leading Democrats were involved in a child sex ring at an obscure pizza joint in Washington, D.C.
It resulted in a crazed man walking in and shooting up the place.
So, we have to be understandably skeptical about the source. But, this article is not about the sourcing of Mr. Cernovich’s stories. Case in point, his reportage of the Susan Rice scandal has been excellent.
Therefore, I choose not to discount Cernovich outright. So, let’s just stick to the facts on this matter.
Claim #1: The Trump Administration is preparing to invade Syria with 150,000 U.S. troops.
The fact is that the United States military is incapable of deploying an additional 150,000 troops beyond what it already has deployed globally. If it attempted to deploy more forces–particularly in a new conflict, such as Syria–it would prove to be the thing that broke the military. While it is true that the Trump Administration is steadfastly committed to expanding America’s defense budget, and it is also true that Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is a big fan of readiness, the U.S. military is simply not ready to engage in the kind of war that it would have to fight in Syria. And, more importantly, it would take far too long to stand up the requisite force levels to deploy into Syria whilst upholding the U.S. military’s other global commitments.
Let’s face it: one way or the other, the Syrian Civil War is coming to an end. Thanks to the Russians and, more importantly, the Iranians, the Assad regime is poised to retain its position in Syria. Now, the Assad regime may never be able to exert control over the country that it had previously, but between the U.S. coalition efforts to destroy ISIS in Iraq, coupled with the Russian-Iranian efforts to buttress Assad in Syria, there is little doubt that Assad’s enemies are going to fall far sooner than Assad will. Indeed, short of the U.S. launching a decapitating strike against Assad, or of getting the Russians to pressure the Alawites to remove Assad themselves (Assad is a member of the Alawites, who are the ruling ethno-religious minority group in Syria), Assad will win this debilitating civil war (however much of a pyrrhic victory it ends up being).
Do you remember in 2013 when former President Barack Obama made his red line against Assad’s use of chemical weapons? Do you recall how the Obama Administration was jazzed to strike and then stood down? During that time period, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, went down to Capitol Hill and testified that it would require a minimum of 75,000 U.S. troops to conduct missions aimed at retrieving, securing, and destroying Assad’s suspected chemical WMD stockpiles.
What’s more, Dempsey threw cold water on the whole assessment by adding the caveat that that was a conservative estimate that would undoubtedly have to be expanded upon, once U.S. troops landed and got a lay of the land. Needless to say, neither Congress nor the Obama Administration were very much interested in such an endeavor.
One reason (of many) for this reticence was due to the fact that the U.S. military simply could not commit 75,000 troops for even a short period of time, without risking its operations in other parts of the world. Remember, under former President Obama, the for the first time since the Second World War, the U.S. military lost its ability to wage a two-front war. Instead, it could conceivably wage a one-and-a-half front war. Or, more realistically, a one-war-with-a-smaller-front-elsewhere.
Right now, the U.S. is consumed by the War in Afghanistan. Whatever resources aren’t going into that conflict, are going into the fight against ISIS–mostly directed into Iraq. Of course, there are limited operations in Syria occurring and President Trump has escalated the U.S. force presence in Syria. However, these forces have been relegated to American Special Forces. What’s more, since Donald Trump assumed the presidency, very little has changed in the makeup of the military force structure. In fact, there has been a consistent decline in American warfighting capabilities since 2013.
So, I’m not going to discount what Cernovich claims entirely. In fact, the U.S. military makes plans for many conceivable contingencies. Don’t believe me? Check out the book “Never Wars” to get a better understanding of the incredible history of American military contingency planning.
Furthermore–and this is where Cernovich’s claim has any credence whatsoever–the U.S. under Trump is not interested in nation-building. However, we have declared it within our interests to prevent Assad from using WMDs. Both in 2013 and, more recently, the military has drawn up plans to deploy large American forces into Syria to secure Assad’s WMD stockpiles. However, one cannot fathom why you would need such a large force when Special Forces are better suited to this task.
Indeed, we have similar contingency plans for securing or destroying Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, should the jihadists of Pakistan manage to overthrow the legitimate government there. And, I can assure you, that the U.S. does not ever plan on deploying a force to Pakistan as large as what Cernovich claims the Trump Administration wants to deploy in Syria.
Besides, in terms of actual implementation, however, 150,000 troops would simply be insufficient for pacifying a country like Syria. In Iraq, when there weren’t Russians and Iranians running amok, we discovered that 150,000 U.S. troops was insufficient for stabilizing the country after major combat operations terminated. The only reason for having such a large force would be to first insert them under the imprimatur of securing chemical WMD but, as we’ve witnessed in places like Somalia, Iraq, and Libya, mission creep would set in, and the mission would become postwar stabilization. And, let me tell you, that 150,000 troops is insufficient for such a task. But, McMaster and his team know this very well, since many of them experienced the chaos of trying to stabilize Iraq.
Syria, a country that has infinitely more complex ethno-religious tensions and a state that has lower degree of centrality than Iraq did (made doubly less central by the fact that most of the infrastructure in Syria has been decimated by the civil war there), would be almost impossible to stabilize. McMaster knows this. He saw it firsthand in Iraq. He wrote his dissertation on the dereliction of duty of senior national security personnel during the Vietnam War.
Furthermore, President Trump explicitly campaigned against this kind of action. Of course, both George W. Bush and Barack Obama campaigned in opposition to such actions. However, neither men were as unconventional and grounded in their own worldview as Trump appears to be. Therefore, with all due respect, while Cernovich’s “scoop” is likely legitimate, the context is likely severely lacking. Also, it simply strains credulity that General McMaster of all people would be so errant in his strategy as to completely forget the hard lessons of Iraq (most notably: don’t repeat another Iraq).
All in all, this claim is highly unlikely; it is sensational and likely taken out of context by whoever leaked it to Cernovich.
Claim #2: There is a major shakeup occurring in the Trump Administration
This claim has a degree of truth to it. Although, as with all leaks, context is usually missing.
The initial claim was that Steve Bannon was being removed from his controversial position on the National Security Council and that Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, was responsible for that. Indeed, later claims stated that there is currently a power struggle going on between the globalist wing, as represented by the likes of Jared Kushner, and the nationalist wing, as represented by Bannon…and that Bannon had either lost or was losing.
Here’s what we know: Steve Bannon was technically removed from his previous position on the NSC. However, that move seemed to be pro forma. After all, the day following the announcement, Bannon was photographed in the makeshift NSC Situation Room at Mar-a-Lago during the tomahawk-cruise missile strike in Syria.
In fact, the Administration’s official claim was that Bannon had only been given the role on the NSC to keep former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn in check. Apparently, Trump had lost faith in Flynn early on in the Administration and wanted to have Bannon monitor the retired general’s movements. Now, that entire explanation is problematic in itself, however, it might just be true, given the absurdity of that official explanation.
Needless to say, while Bannon will no longer have an official position on the NSC, he clearly retains sit-in rights. In fact, it was later reported that, despite having held the official position on the NSC since almost the beginning of the Trump Administration, Bannon only ever attended one NSC briefing. I can assure you, that there were numerous NSC briefings since the start of the Administration. Clearly, that story was overblown.
As for the Jared Kushner theories on the net about him being “wooed” by the globalists in the Administration. There is very little evidence indicating this one way or the other. Although, there can be little doubt that Kushner is far more sympathetic to certain Liberal causes and globalist personalities. However, that could just be the byproduct of having grown up wealthy in Manhattan–everyone from that area have sympathies toward the globalist worldview.
Lastly, it was recently announced that NSC staffer KT McFarland will be stepping down from her post. While this is technically a shakeup, I disbelieve that this is any way a substantive shift. From my understanding McFarland was not an essential member of the NSC staff–especially not after the removal of Mike Flynn. In fact, the only major shakeup would be that of Mike Flynn, but that came long before Cernovitch posted his claims.
Claim #3: McMaster’s NSC is stovepiping intelligence
This is Cernovich’s biggest claim. He claims that within the community of retired generals who are running the Trump Administration’s national security policy, there is a divide. According to Cernovich, McMaster is coordinating with retired (and disgraced) General David Petraeus. These men are involved in a conspiracy of sorts to push the Trump Administration into a major war in Syria. Thus, McMaster has been cherrypicking intelligence to send up to President Trump–all of it aimed at convincing the President that military action (sending 150,000 U.S. ground troops) against Syria is vital.
The accusation that intelligence is being cherrypicked and sent up to the President in a way to impact national policy is nothing new. Cernovich himself broke the story about how NSC officials under President Obama routinely lied and manipulated the American people in order to gain their support (or to get them to deny support) for certain policies. Former Obama NSC staffer, Ben Rhodes, famously bragged that he knew how to manipulate the “echo chamber” to get it to disseminate what he knew to be false or corrupted information (or to completely omit information) to the public.
More importantly, during this time, the Obama NSC and political leaders in U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), were cherrypicking which intelligence on the Obama Administration’s war against ISIS to send up to the President. The reason was that the NSC staff didn’t want to taint its narrative of the Obama strategy for defeating ISIS as being anything other than successful. Things got so bad that there were mass resignations from CENTCOM and demands for Congressional investigations into the matter.
During the George W. Bush Administration, the Pentagon set up its own intelligence unit that reported directly to then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and former Vice-President Dick Cheney. Seeing as they were two of the most ardent supporters of the Iraq War in 2003, they had a vested political interest in combing over raw intelligence that other agencies, such as the CIA, had collected, to see if the CIA missed or omitted anything that would have proven that Saddam Hussein did indeed possess Weapons of Mass Destruction (and that he was aiding and abetting al Qaeda, as Mr. Cheney claimed before the invasion).
“Stovepiping” is a metaphorical term which recalls a stovepipe’s function as an isolated vertical conduit, and has been used, in the context of intelligence, to describe several ways in which raw intelligence information may be presented without proper context.
Suffice to say, this claim is not new, but it is vitally important. In the case of Cernovich’s Susan Rice story, we know it to be true. She admitted it herself on national television. What’s more, former Obama Administration officials, such as Dr. Evelyn Farkas, confirmed the fact that the Obama Administration was conducting a questionable investigation into Donald Trump and his campaign’s associations with purported Russian agents.
We also know that the Obama NSC staffers colluded to prevent the truth of the ineffectiveness of the Obama Administration’s war against ISIS from getting out. Thus, they actually did stovepipe intelligence for media purposes. After all, why taint a perfectly good narrative with facts?
In the case of the Cheney-Rumsfeld stovepiping of intelligence, the results are mixed. The unit in question did not last long at the Pentagon and yielded very little. So, while they did create the unit, given the fact that there were other powerful voices in the Administration pouring cold water on these assertions (and the fact that no one in the U.S. intelligence community believed what the Pentagon team was coming up with), the efficacy of stovepiping intelligence remains in question.
What purpose would McMaster have for stovepiping intelligence? Cernovich insinuates that it’s because the McMaster wing of the Administration essentially wants a war. But to what end? Besides, we’re already engaged in combat operation in Syria and Iraq: ongoing bombing campaigns and constant Special Forces missions are pretty warlike to me. Also, McMaster has his hands full trying to resolve America’s longest-running in Afghanistan. What’s more, McMaster, having been in the thick of it in Iraq, is unlikely to want to repeat such an experience anytime soon. At least, not without good reason. And deploying 150,000 good young men and women to go jogging into chemical warfare does not seem like a reasonable prospect.
Claim #4: There is division between McMaster and Mattis
According to Cernovich, opposing McMaster are the likes of the current Secretary of Defense, retired Marine Corps. General Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis. Previously, it was both Mattis and Flynn who opposed those military personalities in the Administration seeking greater military engagement in Syria. But with the loss of Flynn, those voices have been given a critical stage from whence to voice their views.
It is true that Flynn represented a unique take on American foreign policy. His experience and worldview was desperately needed in U.S. foreign policy. Unfortunately for the country, he has been sandbagged by a corrupt media and sloppy politicking on his part. It is also true that Flynn rubbed many people in the military and intelligence communities the wrong way. However, it is also true that he was highly respected by almost everyone–even having been considered one of “Obama’s generals” at one point in his career. His loss to the Administration is sad, but it is not debilitating. What’s more, McMaster has thus far managed the NSC with élan.
Indeed, with the exception of the “removal” of Steve Bannon from the NSC and the recent announcement that KT McFarland will be stepping down, there haven’t been many changes to the NSC. Nor has there been many significant changes to the Trump foreign policy of America First. While you may be tempted to claim that the recent cruise missile strike into Syria was a repudiation of the Trump campaign promise, I beg to differ. Trump made U.S. foreign policy great again, thanks to his commitment to expanding America’s military might and actually using it (as he did against Assad).
As for the McMaster-Mattis divide. There is absolutely no legitimate source that claims this. If anything, these two men have a great much in common and are poised to rebuild American military might to levels not seen since the heady days of the Reagan Administration. And, for whatever faults Reagan may have had, the one fault that he did not have was involving the United States in the interminable ethno-religious warfare of the Middle East.
All in all, Mike Cernovich’s claims are interesting and warrant further review. However, I simply think that he has taken disparate facts and woven them together in a mistaken narrative. What is more likely is that there are natural shifts occurring in the Administration with several players (which happens, though admittedly, usually not this early on). The U.S. military is also likely “training up” for an increase in combat operations in Afghanistan (and potentially North Korea).
Cernovich is correct in stating that “there is a difference between having a little bit of drama and having a full out war [between Bannon and Kushner]” and he’s also correct that such a dynamic is natural among people who work together for long hours in such a high octane environment, like the White House.
As for the division between McMaster and Mattis, I find this hard to believe, but it could be possible–particularly given that McMaster is former Army and Mattis is a former Marine. As for the stovepiping of intelligence claim: this is Cernovich’s biggest and, frankly, most unbelievable claim, as it would serve no purpose whatsoever for America’s strategic interests.
In fact, these stories are all coming from mostly Russian sources on the web. Not surprisingly, the Russians have been turned off to Donald Trump since he utterly humiliated Putin by attacking Assad. Indeed, it has been revealed that the U.S. strike pointed out the weaknesses of Putin’s much ballyhooed S-400 missile defense system (they are not effective against cruise missiles). What’s more, it showed that Russia’s Armed Forces either cannot or will not (or some combination of the two) fully defend its client from the U.S. Thus, their only chance at “striking back” at the U.S. is using their second-largest weapons: disinformatzyia.
Therefore, it would seem, that many of the more fanciful claims coming from Cernovich (and others, to be sure) are, in fact, likely Fake News. Of course, there is always a possibility that American forces will be deployed in greater numbers at some point in Syria. However, it does strain credulity, given all of the reasons elucidated above. What the future portends, no one can know for certain. But, we must maintain a degree of skepticism about such sweeping claims.
It’s only healthy.