Col. Doug Macgregor, an ex-Pentagon advisor, on how the US war lobby fuels conflict from Ukraine to Syria. Washington, DC, he says, is “occupied territory. It’s occupied by corporations, by lobbies.”
Douglas Macgregor, a retired US Army Colonel and former Pentagon senior advisor, analyzes the US-Russia standoff in Ukraine; the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan; Trump’s failure to act on 2016 campaign anti-interventionist rhetoric, only to surround himself with neocons; and the ongoing, overlooked US military occupation of Syria after the decade-long CIA dirty war.
“The Military Industrial Congressional Complex,” Macgregor says, “seems to be more powerful than anyone who occupies the office of the presidency.”
Guest: Douglas Macgregor, retired US Army Colonel and former Pentagon senior advisor.
AARON MATÉ: Welcome to Pushback. I’m Aaron Maté. Joining me is Douglas Macgregor. He is a retired Army colonel who served as the former senior advisor to the Secretary of Defense. Doug Macgregor, thank you for joining me.
DOUGLAS MACGREGOR: Sure, thank you.
AARON MATÉ: I want to start with the current flashpoint of Ukraine. The US and Russia have been in the midst of a showdown over essentially the status of Ukraine, whether it will join NATO or not, and the status of US forces there and US military aid. Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, he recently said that he believes that a Russia invasion of Ukraine is very likely.
Margaret Brennan, Face The Nation: What specifically would stop Vladimir Putin from his aggression? Do you need to cut that country off from the global financial system to sanction him personally?
Adam Schiff: Well, I think that it would require enormous sanctions on Russia to deter what appears to be a very likely Russian invasion of Ukraine again.
AARON MATÉ: That’s a prevailing view in Washington DC right now. I’m wondering your assessment of that prospect. Do you agree that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is very likely?
DOUGLAS MACGREGOR: Well, this is one of the few occasions where I can agree with something that Adam Schiff has said. Yes, I think it’s very likely to happen towards the end of January, beginning of February in all likelihood.
AARON MATÉ: On what grounds do you believe that?
DOUGLAS MACGREGOR: Well, there are several.
First of all, the problems in Ukraine are not new. We’ve been dealing with them for the last, I would argue, 10 to 15 years. These problems were evident in the 1990s when the former Soviet Union fragmented into various states. The current borders of Ukraine never made a great deal of sense because Ukraine is essentially a multi-national state. You have in the east, that is beyond the Dnieper River, to the south down to Odessa on the coast, what is really a Russian population. The rest of Ukraine is actually historic Ukraine. It goes back to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and that part of Ukraine is inhabited by true Ukrainians in terms of ethnicity as well as culture and language. Putting this together has always been problematic, particularly because Ukrainians have wanted to turn the Russians into Ukrainians. The Russians aren’t terribly excited about that prospect and have complained bitterly about it. And Putin, from the very beginning of his presidency, tried to make it clear to anyone who would listen that there were certain things that he would not tolerate as the Russian head of state, and one of those was that Ukraine become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
He also had concerns about the EU because that was seen as another mechanism with which to integrate Ukraine into the West.
Then finally he became very concerned about the plight of the Russians. Crimea has historically never [been] part of Ukraine and has been part of Russia since 1776, and so he was anxious to relieve that burden on the Russians in Crimea by driving the Ukrainians out, and he did that in 2014. But he also wanted to ensure that we understood that we were never going to be able to use Crimea—the Crimean Peninsula—and the ports on the Crimean Peninsula for NATO naval forces or any other forces.
We didn’t pay any attention. We attacked him viciously. We essentially ignored any of his expression of concern or interest in Ukraine from the standpoint of Moscow’s national security. And we have always refused to acknowledge the Russian concern that NATO is threatening to Russia. We’ve insisted, ‘Absolutely not.’ But we don’t have far to look over the last 20 years at the various regime change operations that Washington has staged to appreciate Putin’s concerns. But instead of addressing those concerns in a substantive way, taking into account what Russia’s interests are, we’ve essentially said that they’re illegitimate, and the only interests that are legitimate are our own and those of our quote-unquote NATO allies.
So, here we sit. We’re looking at a force of 130, 150, 180 thousand, I don’t know what it will be when the day approaches, but a force that is substantial enough to seize the Russian-speaking areas that are east of the Dnieper River and, frankly, all the way out to Odessa if he decides to do it. There’s not a great deal we can do about it.
AARON MATÉ: I know that Russia already has senior military forces there, is providing military equipment to its allies in Ukraine, but a full-scale invasion, do you think, practically, Russia has summoned the necessary forces to pull off such a thing? And do you think Putin wouldn’t want the burden of a full-on military invasion of Ukraine that seeks to be a much higher escalation than what he’s already done? And I just wonder if, even if he wanted to, whether that’s even feasible from a Russian point of view?
DOUGLAS MACGREGOR: Well, it’s absolutely feasible, particularly when you look at the map and you see that he will confine his operations to the Russian-speaking areas. In many cases I think the Russians will be welcomed as liberators. They’re certainly not going to be heavily resisted by the Russian population. Resistance will come from Ukrainians. But in those areas where he’s going to go, there are very few Ukrainians, if any at all, and the only Ukrainians there are from the Ukrainian armed forces. So, I don’t think that’s the concern.
Now, as far as launching the operation at all, I don’t think Vladimir Putin has wanted to do it for a long time, but I think he feels that he has no choice, he’s left no alternative, because we absolutely will not acknowledge his national strategic interest in Ukraine.
From the very beginning we could have approached Ukraine very differently. But this is the biggest problem. What are our goals in Ukraine? Our goals should be that Ukraine remains independent, sovereign, free, and that may or may not have anything to do with membership in NATO. But we haven’t been willing to consider that. A lot of us—I’m one of them—argued very early that the obvious solution would be Austrian-style neutrality for Ukraine. Simply no foreign bases or forces in the country that would be threatening to Russian interests, and a willingness to let Ukraine vote its own future. If it wants to stay together it may do so; if it doesn’t then we can certainly look at a territorial arrangement which allows the Russian areas to join Russia.
About 10 years ago I think most of the population, even the Russians said, ‘No, let’s just hold this construct together.’ I don’t think that’s the case anymore, and I think if given the choice most of the Russians in the east would now prefer to be part of Russia. So, I don’t think going into Ukraine from that standpoint is a big issue for Vladimir Putin, though while, what he will not do, Aaron, is cross the Dnieper River and go into Ukraine proper, where you’ve got 25 million or so committed, devoted Ukrainians who will fight like hell. He doesn’t want to deal with it. He’s not interested in that; he’s only interested in the territory, as far as I can tell, to the Dnieper River and potentially out to Odessa. That is what he has been calling ‘Novo Russia,’ ‘New Russia,’ which is a term that first came into use under Catherine the Great, when Catherine the Great’s armies ultimately conquered Crimea and essentially designated those areas as New Russia. Because before 1776 the areas that we’re talking about in eastern Ukraine and Crimea were part of a Tartar-Mongol-Muslim khanate for several hundred years.
So, the bottom line is, I don’t think he wants to do it, but I think he feels he has to, to protect the Russians that are there. He has to force this in order to get the attention of the United States and its NATO allies. I think it’s going to work. I think he will. Now, how will that turn out in the long term? Well, we can speculate about all the potential consequences, but he can do it.
AARON MATÉ: Alright, so Russia has made its goals clear. It wants to keep Ukraine out of NATO…wants a binding pledge that will keep Ukraine out of NATO, and also wants guarantees against the positioning of US weapons, offensive US weapons, inside Ukraine. I’m wondering your assessment of the US goals, and specifically how the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline factors in to all this, or if you think it does. Right now, this Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is under this review period in Germany. If it goes ahead, it will further integrate Russia into the rest of Europe, and Ukraine will be bypassed. It will lose out on billions of dollars in transit fees that it collects by basically being a pass-through for Russian gas. I’m wondering if you agree with analysts who say that what the US and Ukraine are doing in adopting a bellicose posture right now is basically jockeying for better leverage over Nord Stream 2 and limiting the extent to which Russia will benefit from that deal, if it goes ahead.
DOUGLAS MACGREGOR: Well, I suppose you could argue that that’s part of it. But frankly the Germans have looked to Russia for a very long time as a source of liquefied natural gas and other minerals. Keep in mind that in 1914, when World War I broke out, Russia was Germany’s number one trading partner and Germany was Russia’s number one trading partner. And, again, on the 22nd of June 1941, Russia was Germany’s number one trading partner and Germany was Russia’s number one trading partner. The Germans and the Russians, frankly speaking—with the exception of those two world wars which are very anomalous—actually have a long history of cooperation. And I think the Germans and the Russians would like to get back to that because each has something the other needs. The Germans need Russia’s vast natural resources, mineral resources, as well as oil and gas, timber, other things, and the Germans have the finished machine tool products, the engines, many of the technologies for automobiles and aircraft, and so forth, that the Russians need. So, this is not a spur-of-the-moment decision by the Germans.
The second point is, the Germans want to shut down all of their nuclear reactors, they want to become independent of nuclear power; the only way to do that is with more liquefied natural gas. Now we have stepped up to the plate and offered to sell the liquefied natural gas to them. The problem is we can’t sell it to them as cheaply as the Russians can, and the Russians can sell it much more cheaply and much faster—not only to Germany but to the Netherlands, to Belgium, to Austria, Hungary, all the people in central Europe who need liquefied natural gas—through Nord Stream 2 than they can get it through Ukraine. So, I think in this sense, Ukraine is bound to lose simply because the Russians have found a faster, cheaper, better solution for the European clients.
I think it’s also important to keep in mind that Russia does not have the military capacity that it did 30, 40 years ago, and that is to say there is no theater offensive capability any longer. And, frankly, Vladimir Putin has no aspirations to conquer Europe. So, both sides want to do business and, again, President Trump concluded, ‘Well, if this is the case, then why are we in Europe ostensibly to protect Germany and these other allies from the Russians? Because they obviously don’t feel threatened.’ And, of course, his point was valid.
We have to come to terms with reality that this Nord Stream 2 probably is going to happen. It may be delayed a little bit by the new German government, but the German people don’t want to freeze through the winter. Everybody needs liquefied natural gas for heating in southern Europe, so I think that barrier will come down. Ukraine has to decide how it wants to go forward with its Russian neighbor. And we have never said to the Ukrainians, ‘You must get along with your neighbor.’ Instead, what we said is, ‘By all means be hostile, and we want to come in and we want to use your country as a platform to attack Russia.’ And when I say, ‘attack Russia,’ I’m not suggesting that we want to attack Russia militarily, but we want to use it as a platform with which to subvert the Russian government and potentially destabilize its society.
This goes back to the regime change problem that I mentioned earlier, and the Russians aren’t going to accept any excuses or arguments from us that our presence there will be benign; they see no evidence for that benign presence. They see the opposite, which is why [Belarus President Alexander] Lukashenko and White Russia, or Belorussia, has moved so quickly with Putin to ensure that his regime is stable and White Russia cannot go the way of Ukraine.
AARON MATÉ: You mentioned Trump recognizing that Russia is, as a part of Europe, is a reality. Let me ask you then, do you have a sense of why Trump’s administration, which you served under briefly, tried to essentially stop the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline with heavy sanctions against anybody involved?
DOUGLAS MACGREGOR: I think Donald Trump far too often bowed to the wishes of senior members of his party on the Senate side. You have a very strong lobby in the Senate for conflict with Russia, to be blunt. This lobby is also backed on the other side of the aisle by the Democrats. The Democrats have their reasons, arguing that, ‘Well, they’re an anti-democratic regime; they’re not a true democracy.’
I haven’t seen very many true democracies in my lifetime, to begin with. We can even talk about the United States in that context, if you want. I think that’s a false argument, but their view is, this is an authoritarian state, and they don’t like it; it’s a nationalist state, rests on the foundations of Russian national ethnicity, language, culture and society. This is something that the left hates. I think the left sees Russia through a Cold War lens and refuses to accept the fact that they’re not dealing with the Soviet Union or the Soviet leadership. They keep talking about Vladimir Putin as the former KGB officer in an attempt to somehow or another discredit him. But Russia today is much closer to the tsarist Russian state before World War I than it is to the Soviet Union, and we don’t seem to want to accept that.
And then, of course, you’ve got a lot of people who see profit in this conflict even though it may not be hot at this point, but certainly it’s a cold one—and that’s the arms industry. And the defense industrial complex sees this as an opportunity to spend a great deal of money on a whole range of armaments that they otherwise might not be able to sell.
So, all of it is, in my judgment, bad thinking and bad news. But right now, both parties are largely in agreement on this anti-Russian viewpoint and attitude, so that’s why I think Putin doesn’t have much choice but to go in as a means of protecting his country and sending the signal to us that ‘this far and no further.’
AARON MATÉ: Trump was even impeached after he briefly paused some weapons sales to Ukraine, and all this came after. On the campaign trail he talked about cooperation with Russia, getting along with Russia. I’m wondering, if he hadn’t faced four years of being called a Russian puppet, hadn’t been impeached after he briefly paused these weapon sales—although the allegation was that he was doing it for political gain to taint Joe Biden—if he hadn’t faced all that, do you think that his policy towards Russia would have been different?
DOUGLAS MACGREGOR: Yes. But he had an enormous problem with the people that he selected for key positions in his administration. The people that populated his National Security Council, the individual Mr. [Mike] Pompeo that he selected to be Secretary of State, Bob Gates, who was in as Secretary of Defense, was sending him nominees for various positions—Bob Gates, a card-carrying neocon is probably the last person I would have listened to.
But I think we have to keep in mind that President Trump came to office with, frankly, unrealistic views of what Washington was like and certainly unrealistic views of the American military and its leadership. He was stuck in the 50s and the early 60s, when we lived in a very different environment in Washington. And by the time he figured it out and discovered what had happened, he was in a position to do very little, frankly, because he got almost no cooperation out of his own party in the Senate, let alone the left.
It’s a sad story because I think we had four years of squandered opportunity and we’re now paying the price for it. We’re still in Iraq and we’re still in Syria. We have this problem with the Russians that I don’t think should exist. It should go away.
The only good news lately was this joint declaration that came out of the White House from all the nuclear powers: China, Russia, the United States, Great Britain, France, saying that all agreed that they wanted to avoid the use of nuclear weapons at all costs and that a nuclear war would be a loser for everybody. Well, that’s something that Donald Trump said repeatedly. But if Donald Trump had tried to embrace a no-first-use policy, for instance, which is something the Chinese already have, he’d have been attacked violently for putting the nation and our civilization at risk. Which of course is nonsense. Nuclear weapons have reached the point where their use is antithetical to everybody’s interest; it would destroy the planet. Donald Trump always knew that and wanted to address it but, as you point out, he was surrounded by people that actively subverted him on his doorstep as well as with people on the Hill that were heavily influenced by various lobbies and had no incentive to cooperate with him.
AARON MATÉ: On nuclear weapons, Trump ultimately signed off on expanding the nuclear program and now Biden is continuing that.
DOUGLAS MACGREGOR: Yeah, and again, this is the military-industrial-congressional complex that seems to be more powerful than anyone who occupies the office of the presidency. We can go back to Obama, look at him as a candidate, the people that surrounded him and many of the things that he argued should be done, and then look at him as president. In some ways, even though Obama and Trump are very different people with different agendas, they’re almost two sides of the same coin. They were operating inside Washington DC which is occupied territory; it’s occupied by corporations, by lobbies, and these lobbies and corporations largely own the votes of the people on the Hill.
The other thing is that I think Donald Trump worried too much about being liked. When you’re President of the United States, if you want to get something done, it’s better to be feared than to be liked. And I think he made a mistake with his own party trying to cultivate people that were, frankly, a waste of his time to cultivate. It would have been far better for him to strike fear into them. But I was the minority voice on these matters in his administration.
AARON MATÉ: So, one area of this that is still very much ongoing is Syria. There are still hundreds of US troops there. The former US envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, admitted that he and other top officials misled the administration on the number of US troops there in order to undermine Trump’s stated call for withdrawing US troops from Syria. What can you tell us about Trump’s desire to withdraw US troops from Syria and how that was subverted or ignored?
DOUGLAS MACGREGOR: Well, first of all, he obviously appointed people at the top of the Defense Department that were effectively his enemies, the most prominent of which was General [James] Mattis. And many in his inner circle told him when he had been elected, before he made any announcements about Mattis, they said, ‘Sir, let us thoroughly vet him. You really don’t know him. Please, let’s not do this.’ And, of course, Donald Trump was enamored with the image, the idea of a four-star Marine who could go in there and get things done. He ended up with a four-star Marine, but the only things he did were designed to protect and enlarge the Marine Corps and obstruct anything that Donald Trump wanted to do inside the military.
So, he didn’t take that advice, and when it became clear that he was dealing with someone who was utterly opposed to him, he should have fired the man outright. But he was always talked out of it by key members of his own administration and people on the Hill. ‘Oh, no, don’t do that. That will cause a lot of trouble. You’ll be annihilated in the press. You’ll have more enemies than ever.’ And he relented.
This is what happened too often. So, when he sent me over, the first mission was to try and get us out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible, and the second was to get us out of Iraq and Syria. And I pointed out to his staff, well, getting out of Iraq and Syria is fairly straightforward—it’s not that difficult because you can literally drive out—Afghanistan’s a larger challenge but it can still be done. And, of course, the wintertime was the ideal time to do it because the people that give you the most trouble are sitting in the mountains next to their stoves or in their caves next to the fire; they’re not down there fighting with you.
So, we should have gotten out in the winter, and we could have driven or flown most of the equipment out, I think, and at the same time avoided the kind of the debacle that you saw later on in the year, in the beginning of the summer or during the summer. But, again, once it became clear what he wanted to do, the original end date that I gave him for getting out of Afghanistan was 31 December; he advanced that, I think, until 15 January. Doesn’t make any difference, it’s fine. We still could have gotten out within that timeframe safely, all the Americans and most of the equipment.
The problem was that when he confronted [Senator] Mitch McConnell and Mr. [Robert] O’Brien, his National Security Adviser, even his acting Secretary of Defense, certainly [Mark] Esper beforehand, members of the Senate beyond Mitchell [McConnell] that were on both sides, they all said, ‘Oh, no, you can’t do this. No, we have a bipartisan agreement in place. We’ve worked with the Taliban. No, no, no, no, no, this has to wait. We can’t do this.’ And again, instead of demanding it, acting on it, he buckled under pressure and relented and said, ‘Well, let’s take 50 percent out.’
This is the sort of thing that’s so disappointing, because a lot of people come to office, and they never understand from a legal standpoint the real authority and power that they exercise. That’s true for service secretaries, it’s true for presidents. And the president is ultimately the commander-in-chief, and that’s a no-kidding position with absolute authority over the armed forces, and he can pretty much tell everyone else to go to hell if he wants to, to get something done. But Donald Trump never did that; he was too busy trying to consult, too busy trying to be nice, too busy trying to accommodate. That’s not the way you get something done in Washington. You have to pick out the key things that you think are most important, and you have to spend your political capital on those and accept the fact that if you can get two or three of those things done while you’re in charge, that’s real success. He never understood that, again, until it was too late.
AARON MATÉ: So, there’s a point you made there that I hadn’t heard before that I found interesting. Do I hear you right, that had the US withdrawal gone ahead in the wintertime instead of the summertime, as Biden ultimately did it, that in your opinion that would have resulted in less bloodshed?
DOUGLAS MACGREGOR: Oh, absolutely. Everybody knows that. The mountain passes fill up with snow, the weather is very unaccommodating to everybody. It would have been a much easier process. You certainly wouldn’t have had people hanging off airplanes and all this kind of nonsense. And I think the Taliban, to be perfectly blunt, truly feared Donald Trump. He made it very clear to them what he would do to them if they interfered or failed to live up to the bargain. I don’t think the Taliban was remotely concerned about the Biden administration. So, I do think that the Trump intimidation factor was also in play there. But getting out in the dead of winter was always the right thing to do. Anybody with experience on the ground in that country will tell you that you don’t want to come out during the fighting season, and that’s exactly what we did.
AARON MATÉ: And what’s your assessment now of US policy in Afghanistan, now that the US military is gone? Still, the Biden administration has billions of dollars of Afghan reserves frozen; there are these harsh sanctions. Recently there was talk of some humanitarian exemptions, but aid groups are warning of food shortages, dire hunger, millions of people possibly dying. What is guiding US policy towards Afghanistan right now?
DOUGLAS MACGREGOR: I think a great deal of emotion is guiding things. I think there’s bitterness and anger, a desire to inflict harm. There are a few rational voices, but on the whole I don’t see a coherent strategy at place anywhere with this administration.
There wasn’t to [inaudible] under Donald Trump the kind of coherent strategic framework for action in the State Department or the Department of Defense that we needed [inaudible] to end the conflicts that were in progress, so that was helpful. This president has been very much a bully in the international environment, much to the consternation of many of his European allies. And I think their expectations of Biden were very different from what they see happening. I don’t think that they expected him to handle the Russians quite the way he has.
So, we have we have a policy to bully anyone who doesn’t agree with us, anyone who doesn’t immediately align themselves with us, doesn’t profess to quote unquote ‘share our values,’ whatever they are. This is a thing they call liberal democracy, which I think is being discredited in many countries. That’s a huge problem. So, when you ask what’s guiding it, I’m not really sure. I still think a great deal of emotion is in play. Instead of looking at the place and understanding that the people who will decide the future of Afghanistan are living in the states that surround Afghanistan as well as in the country, not us. We’ve had our shot. It’s over. Could we ameliorate conditions for the population inside? I think we probably could. Should we? I certainly see no objections to that. But again, you’re dealing with people that are emotionally driven, not rationally driven.
AARON MATÉ: And back to Syria, just a few more questions on that. As we are speaking, there was just recently another rocket attack on the US military base in Deir ez-Zor. The official rationale for why the US is in Syria is that we’re there to fight ISIS, to prevent its resurgence, and to train the Kurds. In your opinion, does that pretext hold up? Is that the real reason why the US is there?
DOUGLAS MACGREGOR: I think the principal reason we are still on the ground in Iraq and Syria, the two principal reasons are as follows.
First of all, the lobby in Washington wants to keep us there. Some of this goes back to Israel and its supporters, and the thinking being that if we are there, somehow another Israeli security benefits. I’m not sure that’s really the case. I think most of what we’ve done in the Middle East has made life miserable for Israel by increasing the numbers of the individuals that hate the country and are willing to attack it. So, I’m not sure that’s true, but I think a lot of people see it in those terms.
Perhaps more important is the unwillingness of the administration to withdraw and then face the kind of debacle that they saw in Afghanistan, even though you could probably get out of both Syria and Iraq easier, faster, with less trouble, in the middle of the night provided you didn’t tell anybody you were leaving, and you came out quickly with some sort of armed escort. But I don’t think they want to go through that. I don’t think anybody wants to be accused of leading from behind, which is nonsense, or courting defeat or being a defeatist administration, and so forth. This is sort of nonsense that people worry about politically. The truth is that if you left tomorrow morning, most Americans would breathe a sigh of relief. And most Americans would then completely lose interest because most Americans on any given day, Aaron, are not interested in what happens beyond our borders.
AARON MATÉ: And finally, about Syria, there is a now well-known email from Jake Sullivan, who’s the current National Security Adviser, to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from February 12, 2012. So nearly 10 years ago next month. And there’s a line where Sullivan says at the top, “AQ [al-Qaeda] is on our side in Syria.” And this was a private email, but it was publicly expressing, I think, a basic fact, which is that when the US chose to wage this multi-billion-dollar dirty war in Syria to overthrow Assad, it was choosing to align with al-Qaeda, and US weapons ended up going to al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda-tied groups.
I’m wondering, in your experience, in the circles you’re in in Washington, was there any debate about the fact that the US was choosing to side with the group that attacked the US on 9/11, and how much does the failure of that policy do you think still drives US policy today, in sort of seeking to deny Syria and its allies a full victory inside Syria’s borders?
DOUGLAS MACGREGOR: We’ve taken some very strident positions that were from the first irrelevant…or not irrelevant but irrational. One of those was that Assad had to go under all circumstances; he was illegitimate, unacceptable. At the same time the Russians looked at Assad and he was, of course, a former ally, but they also looked at the plight of the non-Sunni Muslims, the Shiites, they looked at the Druze, they looked at the various Christians, Armenians and others who were in the country. They said, ‘Well, if the Sunnis take over, this radical Islamist Sunni brand of Islam, that all of these people are going to be slaughtered and we’re not prepared to sit by and watch these people be slaughtered.’ We said, ‘Nonsense. Assad has to go.’ And it didn’t make any difference what Assad said or did; he had to go. Ultimately, he wasn’t going to leave because he also had Iranian backing, and this also offended people.
In truth, if you had to choose in that region which side you wanted to be on, you were much better off on the Shiite side, because the Shiites were not murdering Christians, they were not murdering minorities, they were actually liberating Christians from Sunni oppression and others, and these Popular Mobilization Front militias that were trained by the Iranians have actually worked very closely with us to destroy ISIS in the past, which made a lot of sense. But you have these irrational actors who refuse to accept any new policy, any new change, and they turned out to be more powerful than the president of the United States. And so, we’re still stuck with this ridiculous position in Syria.
How do you get out of it? Well, you have to have a strong president who comes in and fires people, removes them from power, and then holds people to accountability for their disobedience, for their active subversion of national policy. That should have happened under President Trump, but President Trump was not even aware of it until late in his administration. You’re asking me for a rational explanation; it’s hard to come up with one.
I lived through Bosnia-Herzegovina. I was involved in the Dayton Accords and, subsequently, heavily involved in the intervention in Kosovo in the air campaign. And I can tell you then, people were irrational about the actors on the ground. Everyone decided to make the Serbs the public enemy number one. There was no willingness to be remotely fair and objective about the people in the Balkans, whether it was the Croats or the Muslim Bosniaks. No, no, no. The Serbs had to pay; they were the troublemakers. So, we went to great lengths to destroy the Serbs left and right, and then when I said, ‘Does this make a lot of sense, in view of the fact that Osama bin Laden and his friends were active in Albania and active with the Kosovo Liberation Army, and previously Islamists with records as terrorists were also in Bosnia-Herzegovina?’ And I was told, ‘No, no, no. We’re here to show the Muslims solidarity with them, that we’ll fight for Muslims, too.’ Of course, most of us that knew anything about the Middle East shook our heads in disbelief and walked away, but again everything was emotional.
If you wanted to get ahead under the Clinton administration, you had to join the Serbian Hate Club and argue for ‘bombs away’ over Serbia. If you wanted to get ahead under the subsequent Bush administration in the Middle East, you had to join their Global War on Terror, which frankly was pretty unfocused and treated everyone as a potential enemy and nobody as a real friend. Remember the speech, “you are [either] with us, or against us.” I mean, that was the dumbest thing we could have possibly said, because on any given day 90 percent of the people that live anywhere in that part of the world are completely disinterested in fighting us. Instead, we made everybody an interested party to destroy us.
That’s where we are now. We don’t have very many friends left, and even those who profess to be friends don’t really trust us. So, the whole thing over the last 30 years, I would say since 1991, since Desert Storm, has been an utter disaster. We’re just seeing it reach its bottom point with the Biden administration. But again, most of it is driven by emotion. There are obviously hard ideological interests in certain quarters, and there’s money involved, as there always is. You always have to follow the money trail. But emotion drives a lot of the thinking, which, of course, is a disaster for the United States and the conduct of our foreign and defense policy.
AARON MATÉ: Doug Macgregor, retired Army colonel, former senior adviser to the Secretary of Defense, thanks very much for your time.