A warning to any foreign policy experts who may be reading this: this article is a severely oversimplified breakdown of the strategic situation in the Middle East and how the President’s actions will affect the region.
President Trump’s decision on December 19th to withdraw U.S. Forces from Syria is troubling for several reasons. Let’s start with what happened last time we abruptly pulled American troops out of a Middle Eastern country in chaos. President Obama used much of his time on the 2008 campaign trail promising voters he would pull the United States out of conflicts in the Middle East, and in 2010 he began to deliver on that promise, pulling almost all U.S. troops out of Iraq by late 2011. The result of this was devastating for Iraqi and Syrian forces as ISIS was able to capitalize on the situation, seizing U.S. weaponry left by military units who were ordered to leave quickly. (where did you get this from?
The decision was universally criticized by lawmakers and analysts on both sides, and no voice was louder than Donald J. Trump, famously using Obama’s decision to pull out of Iraq, and the subsequent rise of extremist groups in the region, to brand the former president as “the founder of ISIS.” Yet just several weeks ago the current President announced he would be making a similar decision as that of his predecessor.
Let us ignore the blatant hypocrisy present in this decision and also assume that the Trump administration wouldn’t pull out of Syria as abruptly as the Obama administration did in Iraq or leave any US weaponry susceptible to seizure by forces on the ground in Syria. That plan of action still leaves several problems. One of which is that, despite the President’s continued claims of victory over ISIS in Syria, “ISIS isn’t actually defeated”(Vox, 2018). In fact, U.S. officials in Trump’s own administration estimate that there are roughly 17,100 Islamic State fighters still on the ground in Syria.
If the US forces pull out now the President could very well lose the battle cry of his base that ISIS is “on the run” – or at least the validity of the statement. Another problem is that Iraq and Syria are currently acting as a buffer between regional superpowers Saudi Arabia and Iran, and withdrawing US troops could be just what the Iranians need to all but consume the region.
The decision could also strengthen the control and influence of Russia, whose government has acted as an apologist for Syria and has turned a blind eye to the repeated human rights abuses by the Syrian regime, like President Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons against his own citizens. Increased Russian influence in the Middle East could offset the power balance in the area and endanger Sunni nations — countries whose governments affiliate themselves with Sunni Muslim beliefs– many of whom are our allies.
Another issue that comes with the decision to pull out is that we will be abandoning our Kurdish allies. Since 2015, the Kurds — a Muslim minority in the Middle East — have fought alongside a U.S. coalition to end ISIS. Pulling out of Syria could prompt retaliation from the regime of Assad, as well as leaving them susceptible to land seizures from an increasingly erratic Turkey who claims territory which The Kurds have also claimed.
If you are a conservative voice who finds yourself defending this move, remember, this decision is being met with almost universal backlash. It even resulted in the stepping down of conservative defense secretary James Mattis in protest. If you are on either side of the political spectrum and find yourself downplaying the significance of this decision as Republican senator Lindsey Graham did, indicating that the president will likely slow down on the troop withdrawals, understand that whether it be about DACA, border security, or bipartisan negotiations of any kind, this is a president who goes back on his word frequently, even after a seemingly clear statement to the press or even lawmakers on Capitol Hill. That statement comes not from a place of partisanship, there is far too much of that in our current political climate, it comes from a place of patriotism. The U.S. is the world’s sole superpower, and I want us to continue to be so. If you do too, you should not be a supporter of the U.S. withdrawing from Syria.