December 20, 2018

US Begins Withdrawal From Syria

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“President Donald Trump has begun what will be a total withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, declaring on Wednesday they have succeeded in their mission to defeat Islamic State and were no longer needed in the country.” Reuters

Many on both sides argue that ISIS is not yet defeated:

“ISIS is down but not out, our Syrian allies remain vulnerable, and Russia and Iran retain their own ambitions for regional domination. That’s why Trump’s advisers have repeatedly talked him out of making a serious error by abandoning Syria before the mission is complete… The ISIS caliphate, the physical nation-state they tried to build in 2014–15, is largely in ruins. ISIS the terrorist organization still exists, and it still has thousands of fighters.” National Review

“The group still retains a pocket of land on the Syria-Iraq border and has roughly 20,000 to 30,000 fighters… No one wants American troops deployed in a war zone longer than necessary. But there is no indication that Mr. Trump has thought through the consequences of a precipitous withdrawal, including allowing ISIS forces to regroup and create another crisis that would draw the United States back into the region.” New York Times

Both sides also worry that withdrawal will shift the geopolitical balance in the region for the worse:

“President Trump’s abrupt decision to pull American troops from Syria is riskier than it looks. It ends a low-cost, high-impact mission and creates a vacuumthat will be filled by one of a series of bad actors — Iran, Russia, Turkey, Islamic extremists, the Syrian regime — take your pick, they’re all dangerous for U.S. interests in the Middle East… What’s truly distressing is that until Trump’s sudden turnabout, the United States had something of a virtuous cycle going in the region… Trump aborted this positive momentum.” Washington Post

“Any withdrawal will have dramatic consequences for regional actors vying to fill the power vacuum following the years-long civil war in Syria… The U.S. withdrawal will surely be viewed in Tehran as providing much-needed breathing room for the Iranians to attempt to regain their influence in Syria. And the Russians will quietly celebrate the U.S. withdrawal since it leaves Moscow as the dominant military force in the country.” Breitbart

“Capitulating now to Turkish demands would send a terrible message. Erdogan would conclude that threatening U.S. interests pays off. Meanwhile, other groups that have joined the American side in the Middle East would conclude the U.S. is an unreliable ally. It’s particularly galling to contemplate a withdrawal just as Kurdish forces are engaged in fierce fighting to liberate one of the last Islamic State holdouts, the town of Hanin.” Bloomberg

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) stated, “The decision to pull U.S. defense presence out of Syria is a big mistake. The Syrian Democratic Forces and YPG will now abandon the fight against ISIS… Iran will step up activity in Southern Syria, which will elicit increased Israeli strikes that could lead to a new and far deadlier Israel-Hezbollah war. And our adversaries will use this as evidence that America is an unreliable partner.” Senator Marco Rubio

Other opinions below.

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From the Left

“On the one hand, [Trump’s] sentiments are completely understandable. Syria has become a bloody jumble of overlapping wars—sectarian, civil, regional, big-power proxy… On the other hand, a withdrawal would probably make things worse. At least for now, the presence of U.S. troops, advisers, pilots, and so forth exerts a somewhat stabilizing force—helping to repel ISIS, check Iran, contain Russia, support the Kurds, and shore up the regime in Iraq.”

“Perhaps the president felt boxed in by establishment national-security figures early in his presidency, as previous presidents have felt boxed in, and those advisers have either been replaced or fallen from favor. But the lack of a process to evaluate the consequences of the policy change, and sync America’s actions with those of the 78 other countries contributing to the counter-isis campaign, will distress those who are risking their forces and security.”
The Atlantic

Minority View: “The fact that people on pretty much all sides reacted so negatively to the troop withdrawal decision speaks to a much deeper issue: how hard it is for the US to extricate itself from military engagement abroad once it’s been started…

“[This] incentivizes [Trump] and those after him to keep the US in the middle of foreign fights, even if it means keeping American men and women in harm’s way for no clear strategic reason… The big lesson from today, then, is that American leaders need to think extremely hard about sending troops into war — because once they’re in, it becomes nearly impossible to pull them out without blowback.”

From the Right

“Almost exactly seven years ago, another president executed another popular withdrawal of Americans soldiers from a fragile post-conflict country… Less than three years later, American troops were back on the ground in Iraq expending precious blood and treasure to reclaim ground they’d held only months earlier. Conditions in Syria are far less stable than they were in Iraq.”
Commentary Magazine

“Mr. Trump has benefitted in his first two years by projecting an image of strength that Mr. Obama never did. He struck back against Assad’s use of chemical weapons, revoked the Iran nuclear deal, and sold lethal arms to Ukraine to resist Russian aggression. Retreat in Syria is a sign of weakness that friends and foes will notice

“The U.S. presence in northeastern Syria amounted to a de facto no-fly zone that allowed the Kurdish and Arab Syrian Democratic Forces to clear out as many ISIS cells as possible. Keeping 2,500 forces in northeast Syria to continue this work is hardly an exorbitant commitment. It is not nation-building.”
Wall Street Journal

Minority View: “Too few people seem to remember why the United States is in Syria in the first place. The U.S. mission has nothing to do with checking Iran’s ambitions, protecting the Syrian Kurds in perpetuity, separating Turkish and Kurdish forces from killing each other, or forcing Syrian President Bashar Assad to cooperative on a post-war political settlement…

American military involvement in Syria was strictly about counterterrorism; transforming Syria into some democratic oasis free of Iranian and Russian influence was never in the cards.”
Washington Examiner

Very good dog gets an honorary college degree.
New York Post

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