Last week, President Donald Trump announced during a speech in Richfield, Ohio that soon he will order U.S. troops to pull out of Syria.
The president seemed to justify that step on grounds that ISIS has already been defeated.
However, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and the U.S. special envoy for the global coalition against ISIS, Brett Mc Gurk, have pointed out that ISIS has not been defeated quite yet.
Furthermore, U.S. military commanders claim that the fight against the terrorist group has in fact been halted as a result of Turkey’s military operation in Afrin, which has targeted the Kurds. The Kurds constitute the main force fighting the Islamic State. As a result of the need to resist Turkish aggression, Kurdish fighters have been diverted from focusing on ISIS.
However, the problem of withdrawing our troops from Syria is not just limited to the fight against ISIS. Retreating from Syria will have serious geo-political consequences. First, we would leave the Kurdish populations in northern Syria at the mercy of Turkey.
Most probably, Turkey will crush them and proceed to take over the territories under their control. In that scenario, U.S. troops will never be able to return to the area. In addition, such a move would present us with additional serious moral and political challenges.
First, why would we betray the Kurds, who have been faithful allies? Second, why would we give a victory to a man like the unreliable and volatile Turkish leader Recep Tayip Erdogan?
Erdogan is working closely with Russia and Iran. He has demanded the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Northern Syria precisely in order to crush the Kurds without impediments.
Therefore, the abandonment of the Kurdish minority would mean that we would willingly be giving up a potential ally in counteracting the expanding Russian-Iranian-Syrian and Turkish alliance.
A U.S. withdrawal from Syria would likely open the door to Iran’s further expansion. This could embolden it to continue its subversive activities in Iraq, Yemen, and other places in the region.
Just last January the U.S. announced a policy on Syria that included expansion of the fight against ISIS, prevention of expansion of Iranian influence, and a stabilization plan that would provide humanitarian, economic and political assistance to areas under rebel control (including enabling elections). Likewise, one of the policy’s goals was to ultimately remove Bashar Al Assad from power by supporting opposition forces.
This policy is consistent with U.S. strategic interests in the region. It curbs Iranian and Russian power, and at the same time, promotes a freer and a more democratic way of life for the Syrian people.
Currently, the Damascus suburban area of Ghouta is undergoing a serious crisis. Just this past weekend Assad bombed the area with chemical weapons in what seems to be an atrocious war crime. A few days earlier, Russian napalm bombardments in Eastern Ghouta have killed 1,600 people and forced 120,000 people to flee their homes.
It is only a matter of time before the Assad regime takes full control of the country. Once this happens, Russia and Iran will secure a stronger presence in the Mideast. Besides Iran and Russia, Turkey is also expanding into Syria. These three brutal regimes met last week to decide Syria’s fate while the U.S. is pondering withdrawal, to leave Syria at their mercy.
Assad’s chemical attack is only the beginning of the devastation to come.
In other words, we are not in a good position in Syria.
If we withdraw from Syria we would be displaying a lack of assertiveness, insensitivity in the face of human suffering, and we would be portrayed as being unreliable partners. In short, we would make America weak again.
As Mike Pompeo will be assuming the role of Secretary of State in the near future and John Bolton the role of National Security Adviser, it would be prudent for Trump to design a strategy with these two gentlemen.
Making a decision before they come on board can only undermine their work and the future relations between the president and the national security/foreign policy team. Policy cannot be determined by emotional or impulsive moments. It needs to be properly strategized. Let's not make fatal, reckless decisions.
Luis Fleischman has worked as adviser for the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy on issues related to Latin America. He is the author of "Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era: The Threat to U.S. Security." Fleischman is an adjunct professor of sociology and political science at Barry University. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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