October 8, 2019

US Withdrawing From Syria

“U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday defended a decision [announced Sunday evening] to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, saying it was too costly to keep supporting U.S-allied, Kurdish-led forces in the region fighting Islamic State militants.” Reuters

Both sides are highly critical of the decision, arguing that it risks a resurgence of ISIS and hurts our credibility as a reliable ally.

“For weeks now, Iraq has been rocked by anti-government protests and violent crackdowns. Its prime minister, a U.S. ally, may resign. And now America’s local partners in Syria, the Kurds—who have done more than anyone to roll back ISIS there at the expense of thousands of lives—have been left on their own to face a potential invasion by their powerful, NATO-allied arch-nemesis, Turkey… It’s a recipe for chaos—and ISIS, which has always taken a long-term view of its struggle with America and its allies, couldn’t have written the script for its second act any better itself.”
Mike Giglio, The Atlantic

Trump’s “stunning decision has not only jeopardized a costly victory over the Islamic State, it has betrayed the Kurds, people who were pivotal in defeating the Islamist militants… By now, the Kurds should be accustomed to betrayal. Being double-crossed by Washington has been an enduring feature of U.S. Kurdish relations under Republican and Democratic presidents. But conservatives should be particularly outragedthat the latest treachery has been perpetuated by a president who has never stopped crowing about having defeated the Islamic ‘caliphate’ and having restored U.S. credibility with traditional Mideastern allies.”
Judith Miller, Fox News

“Mr. Trump claimed to be fulfilling a mandate to stop ‘endless wars’ in the Middle East. But unlike the large-scale U.S. missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Syria operation was a light-footprint, low-cost operation — and a striking success. With just a few thousand troops and air power, the United States was able to partner with the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] to destroy the would-be Islamic caliphate and gain de facto control over a large swath of eastern Syria. That impeded Iran’s expansion in the country and gave Washington vital leverage over any eventual settlement of the Syrian civil war…

“[But now] betrayed by the United States and forced to fight a potentially bloody conflict with Turkey, the Kurdish-led forces could quickly abandon any further effort to control the Islamic State. They might well set free the tens of thousands of former militants and family members held in SDF-controlled camps… U.S. allies around the world meanwhile will have reason to question whether they should cooperate with a government that so casually abandons military partners.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

“While Erdoğan and Turkish diplomats may complain that the U.S. should not partner with Syrian Kurds… it is important to remember that [this] U.S. partnership occurred only after failing for three years to get Turkey to stop supporting radical and extremist groups in Syria… About 90% of foreign fighters entering Iraq and Syria to fight with al Qaeda or the Islamic State traversed the Turkish border, often with the facilitation of Turkish security forces. So too did weaponry…

Putting Erdoğan in charge of containing the Islamic State is akin to trusting Iran to protect international shipping lanes. Trump’s decision both to withdraw U.S. forces and greenlight a Turkish incursion not only promises a revival of the Islamic State and renewed conflict in one of the only peaceful parts of Syria, but it likely also foreshadows terrorism and civil war inside Turkey. The Kurds have nowhere to go: northeastern Syria was their safe-haven. Erdoğan also does not understand history: Every country (Saudi Arabia, in Pakistan, in Libya, in Syria, and perhaps even the U.S.) who believed they could use radical Islamism as a tool ended up suffering blowback. Turkey will not be the exception.”
Michael Rubin, Washington Examiner

Under Erdoğan, Turkey has been more an adversary of the U.S. than an ally, strategically aligning with both Russia and, in effect if not in intention, with Iran. The Kurds in Rojava are thus a bulwark not just against ISIS but against perfidious action by all three of those regimes unfriendly to America.”
Editorial Board, Washington Examiner

“It may seem paradoxical, but in caving in to one of the strongmen he so admires, Mr. Trump may have set the United States on a collision course with Turkey. He’s also put himself into conflict with the Pentagon and his own Republican allies. He may walk his own decision back once again, in part or in whole. But what ally could look at the United States now and see a stalwart partner — and what foe could look at it and fear a determined adversary?”
Editorial Board, New York Times

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“This situation has long posed complex challenges to Washington. The Syrian Kurds have been invaluable allies in the fight against ISIS. At the same time, Turkey is a member of NATO and hosts a U.S. air base where a few dozen nuclear weapons have long been stored… It is also true (and here Trump’s frustration with ‘endless wars’ is understandable) that Syria is a bloody jumble of overlapping wars—sectarian, civil, regional, big-power proxy—over which the United States has little influence…

“It’s tempting to get out before we get sucked into a larger conflict. Everyone understands that the United States will get out at some point, and we should get out, but in the meantime, the troops are exerting a stabilizing influence—isolating ISIS, checking Iran, containing Russia, and, above all, supporting the Kurds, who are not only the best fighters in the region but also the most Western-leaning and democratic. It would be good to hammer down some diplomatic arrangements, to protect these goals and those people, before heading toward the exit. But Trump has done none of this.”
Fred Kaplan, Slate

“Mr. Trump’s sudden abandonment of the Kurds was another example of the independent, parallel foreign policy he has run from the White House, which has largely abandoned the elaborate systems created since President Harry Truman’s day to think ahead about the potential costs and benefits of presidential decisions. That system is badly broken today. Mr. Trump is so suspicious of the professional staff — many drawn from the State Department and the C.I.A. — and so dismissive of the ‘deep state’ foreign policy establishment, that he usually announces decisions first, and forces the staff to deal with them later.”
David E. Sanger, New York Times

From the Right

“Removing U.S. forces from the area avoids having them caught up in the Turkish military operation. Unless the U.S. was prepared to oppose Turkey and defend the YPG [Kurds], it’s not clear what purpose would be served by keeping those forces where they were. Our absurd Syria policy has put us in the untenable position of trying to keep the peace between mutually hostile ‘allies’ for years, and eventually the U.S. was going to have to choose which ‘ally’ it was going to side with. It is worth remembering that Turkey is a treaty ally and the YPG is at most a proxy that has proven to be useful over the last few years. If the U.S. is going to favor one or the other, it was never likely that our government would take the side of the YPG over Turkey.”
Daniel Larison, The American Conservative

“Congress has not declared war in, or with, Syria, and it has not voted to end a declaration of war in, or with, Syria. It has not made it clear whether it considers that the situation in Syria falls neatly under its previous authorizations of force, or whether it believes that the president is in violation of them…

“[Lawmakers] terrified of weighing in on matters of life and death, prefers to gripe on TV, to complain on Twitter, and to beseech the executive from the safety of the stump… Our policy is a mess because we do not have one. Instead, we have an oft-changing emperor who makes it up as he goes along while everyone else gripes. Eight years ago, President Obama involved the United States in removing the government of Libya, without ever going to Congress. He faced no consequences for this in either direction. Why would President Trump expect to rely on the advice or direction of the legislature? Why would anyone?”
Charles W. Cooke, National Review

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