October 24, 2019

Ceasefire Extended in Syria

“U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday a ceasefire in northern Syria is now permanent and lifted sanctions on Turkey as a result.” Reuters

Both sides argue that the withdrawal will reduce America’s influence in the Middle East while strengthening Russia:

“In remarks that America’s enemies, from ISIS to the Taliban to Iran will no doubt heed, Trump made clear that while he is willing to make some modest diplomatic and economic investments in molding developments, he has little appetite for expending military resources to secure U.S. interests—even when it comes to something as central to the defense of the homeland as preventing the resurgence of the world’s most virulent terrorist groups with, relative to the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a small deployment of U.S. troops…

“Even as he denounced Barack Obama for not retaliating militarily against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons against civilians in 2013, Trump expressed the very same fatalism about the Middle East that had prevented his predecessor from pulling the trigger to enforce his infamous ‘red line’… that it was futile to intervene in ‘ancient sectarian and tribal conflicts.’”
Uri Friedman, The Atlantic

“I suppose we can look at this as one of those ‘good news, bad news’ deals if you’re the optimistic sort. While they’ve lost their territory in the north, the Syrian Kurds have relocated to the south and are no longer being slaughtered. The border region is at least theoretically open for displaced Syrians to return and resettle the area…

“But what sort of peace has been achieved? The only reason nobody is fighting right now is that Russia is effectively in control of the entire northern border of Syria… Russia’s relationship with Turkey seems to be a permanent fixture, splintering Erdogan’s nation further away from their supposed allies in NATO. With Iraq saying that our troops need to clear out of that country and Iran’s influence there on the rise, we basically no longer have a foothold anywhere in that region closer than Israel.”
Jazz Shaw, Hot Air

Other opinions below.

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From the Left

What makes America unique as a global power is that we have allies who share our interests and values — and amplify our power at a low cost to us — while Russia and China have only client states, like Syria, and customers… ‘If the Germans and Japanese conclude that America’s security guarantees are no longer valid, they will each get nuclear weapons — which we don’t want and they don’t want’… [this] will not make for a more stable world or a cheaper U.S. foreign policy.”
Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times

“The U.S. still needs to keep ISIS from threatening U.S. interests, even as it manages the departure of American troops and tries to help create a path forward through the new dynamics on the ground…

“The U.S.-led coalition should work with Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq to reinforce their borders and ensure that no escaped ISIS fighters or family members are able to cross. With the small presence remaining at Syria’s al-Tanf Garrison as well as other bases in the region, the U.S. can still use its intelligence assets along the Iraq-Syria, Jordan-Syria, and Turkey-Syria borders to monitor ISIS movements. The U.S. will also need to maintain its battlefield communications channel with Russia, the Syrian government’s ally, to ensure that, when necessary, it has the ability to strike ISIS or extremist targets from Syrian airspace.”
Joseph Votel and Elizabeth Dent, The Atlantic

“Putin wants to bring about a world where Russia regains the global prestige and influence it lost after the Cold War. In the Middle East, at least, Putin’s Russia is well on its way… Yet if Russia is a great power, the U.S. is still the superpower…

“Russia can say that it is fighting terrorism in Syria and elsewhere, but only the U.S. really has the capability to keep groups like the Islamic State at bay. Moscow can change the trajectory of the Syrian civil war, but it can’t unlock the flow of international aid dollars that will eventually be needed to rebuild that country — only Washington, in partnership with Europe, can. In short, Russia can chip away at the American-led order in the region, but only the U.S. can destroy that order altogether. Right now, Washington is doing a pretty good job of that.”
Hal Brands, Bloomberg

Some argue, “One of the criticisms leveled at President Donald Trump’s actions in Syria is that they represent a gain for Russia. That, however, begs the question: What is Russia gaining that threatens or diminishes U.S. interests?… Russia has tried to be friendly with everyone in the Middle East, Syria and Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, Israel and those who want to see it destroyed. That was possible so long as the United States was the dominant outside power in the region. Russia could be the understanding shoulder whenever Middle Eastern countries had disagreements or disappointments with the U.S…

That’s not possible to the extent Russia becomes the dominant outside power, as it is in Syria. As second fiddle, you can dance around the edges of the snake pit of Middle East geopolitics. As first chair, you are in the pit. The others in the pit hate each other. And they periodically shoot at each other… There are plenty of reasons to worry about [Trump’s foreign policy]. A larger role for Russia in the Middle East isn’t one of them.”
Robert Robb, Arizona Republic

Finally, some worry that “the opportunity to trash Trump will revive an interventionist temper among Democrats… The problem with the revived interventionist position is that it makes little sense. The United States has been fighting in Afghanistan for 18 years with no end in sight. The U.S. position in Syria — an armed occupation by a token force inside a foreign country without permission or legal mandate — was eroding long before Trump acted. Neither the Syrians nor the Turks were about to allow the Kurds to consolidate an independent region within Syria. If either decided to act, the United States had no desire to escalate to stop them…

“What is clear in Afghanistan and Syria is that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans, neither Obama nor Trump, neither the Democratic House nor the Republican Senate, neither Biden nor Buttigieg is prepared to commit the forces and resources needed to ‘win.’ Instead, they will spend enough in lives and resources to avoid losing. Trump’s toxic combination of arrogance and ignorance, his desire to pose as both the tough guy and the peacemaker are truly destructive. But so, too, is the establishment assumption that the United States can police the world with a ‘light footprint’ without finding ourselves mired in endless wars for which we lack the will either to win or to end.”
Katrina vanden Heuvel, Washington Post

From the Right

“If there’s one thing we should know by now, it’s that Erdoğan is an autocrat who cannot be trusted to do the right thing by the Kurds, the United States, or his own people… A few years ago it would have been fair to describe Erdoğan as a fair-weather friend who assists the U.S. agenda overseas, so long as he benefits. But the mask has come off and the jig is up. We’ve seen enough to know that Erdoğan is no friend to the U.S. He’s a self-interested totalitarian who actively undermines our foreign policy, whether that’s by enabling ISIS, attacking our allies, or spreading anti-American propaganda throughout his country. Trump is wrong to trust him.”
Kaylee McGhee, Washington Examiner

“The withdrawal was hastily adopted, appeared unplanned, and our allies hadn’t been consulted. Even if one was inclined to argue that we needed to find an exit out of Syria, the method Trump chose was arguably among the worst of all choices. On policy, some might think that Syria actually did involve key national-security interests for the US and its regional allies. The fight against ISIS isn’t over, and we hadn’t even figured out how to dispose of over 11,000 detainees from the collapse of the caliphate before allowing the Turks to attack their jailers. Furthermore, our withdrawal makes it easier for Iran to establish and strengthen its ‘land bridge’ to the Mediterranean and to encircle Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.”
Ed Morrissey, Hot Air

“Trump said it was this ceasefire or a war with Turkey that ‘would have required deploying tens of thousands of American troops.’... [but] fewer than 100 American soldiers were deterring a Turkish incursion. Turkey only launched its offensive when Trump pulled those forces out… Trump has made the right decision in retaining some forces in eastern Syria in order to protect oil fields from falling into Russian and Iranian hands. But even here, alongside his abandonment of the Kurds, Trump's proud pledge that ‘we're going to be protecting’ the oil plays to the worse American stereotype: as a country that acts only in defense of greed.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

“The defenses made of Trump’s pullback don’t hold up very well. One is that we only had about 100 troops on the Turkish border, not enough to stop an invasion. True, but such minimal trip-wire forces have stayed the hand of much more formidable adversaries, namely the Eastern Bloc at the Berlin Wall and North Korea on the DMZ. Another is that Turkey is a NATO ally that we didn’t want to skirmish with on the ground. Yes, but this logic would have acted even more powerfully on Turkey, which would have had much more to lose if it killed any of our troops…

“[Trump] wants to bring a conclusion to ‘endless wars.’ This may be an understandable reaction to the long American interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the Syria operation wasn’t anything like those wars at their height, when we had 150,000 or more troops engaged. We leveraged a very small force to help muster the Kurds for a fight that even Trump thought necessary, smashing the [ISIS] caliphate. It’s true that our situational alliance with the Kurds didn’t commit us to defending them forevermore or creating and protecting an autonomous region for them. But other potential proxy forces in the future will remember how quickly we tossed the Kurds aside.”
The Editors, National Review

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and General Jack Keane write, “In Syria, the U.S. has already created an unprecedented new model for conducting significant military operations abroad. We provided a small ground force and American airpower, working alongside local populations that bore the brunt of the fighting. The U.S. action was amazingly successful, enabling us to address a grave threat to American security at a low cost, while simultaneously enabling local populations to take greater responsibility for their own security…

“Our objectives are still achievable, but this will require sternly dealing with Turkey, unequivocally supporting our Kurdish and Arab allies, and maintaining a presence that would prevent the re-emergence of ISIS and misadventures by Iran, Russia and Assad. It is imperative that the United States maintain control of the skies above northeastern Syria and provide a small but capable advisory force to the Syrian Democratic Forces to enable their continued operations against ISIS…

“We [also] encourage President Trump to form a joint enterprise between the United States and our Syrian Democratic Force allies to maintain control over the oil fields and use the proceeds for the benefit of those who helped us destroy ISIS and to help offset the cost for America’s commitment.”
Lindsey Graham and Jack Keane, Fox News

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