By Shep Gerszberg
This week, President Trump announced that he would like to begin the process of removing the American military presence in Syria as soon as possible, though he is now willing to let troops stay in the area for just a bit longer.
This comes at the same time Trump announced the freezing of $200 million in intended aid to Kurdish-liberated and controlled areas of the country. The freezing of that aid and the removal of the American military presence in Syria would be a catastrophic mistake along the lines of the United States’ premature exit from Iraq in 2011 and likely would have similar consequences breeding chaos and violence in the region.
This would be a mistake of historical proportions, possibly the biggest foreign policy blunder of the Trump administration thus far.
Trump’s statements imply that since ISIS is nearly defeated in Syria and Iraq, our presence is no longer needed in Syria. This is patently false and represents a categorical misunderstanding or willful ignorance of the situation on the ground.
Yes, ISIS is close to defeat, but the chaos in Syria is only growing. Now that the fight against ISIS in Syria is winding down, the real fight is about to begin, the fight for the future of Syria and the region, and this, even more than the fight against ISIS, is a fight which will decide the fate of the Middle East.
As of this writing, U.S.-allied Kurdish forces are fighting off a Turkish assault. Turkey is falling into the Russian sphere of influence, Iran and Hezbollah are setting up military bases in Southern Syria, Assad is making massive military gains against the rebel forces, and Russia has more influence over the prominent parties than ever before.
In short, the situation is more chaotic than ever. Now is the absolute worst time to leave because if we leave now, we lose the opportunity to have a say in how this situation is resolved.
Whether you agree with them or not, it is undeniable that, thanks to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s handling of the State Department and Trump’s actions and statements, American diplomatic power is at a low point. We aren’t getting a say through diplomatic pressure. Therefore, the only way we have a say in how the Syrian conflict is resolved is by having boots on the ground and having a presence in Syria when the talks about the future of Syria begin.
To leave now would strip us of the power to shape the post-conflict Syria. We cannot let others handle it as Trump has suggested. If we remove ourselves from the equation, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Hezbollah serve to gain the most. We leave the fate of millions in Syria and a vital regional location in the hands of our enemies.
If we leave now, we set the stage for a deal which empowers Russia to install a hand-picked autocrat to replace Assad, who will likely strike a deal to retire peacefully in some small nation. Iran and Hezbollah would make a deal with Russia and the new autocrat to keep a military presence in Southern Syria, and Turkey would have free reign to continue their mission to annihilate the Kurdish presence in Northern Syria.
In short, the literal worst-case scenario.
Not only would we be leaving Syria in the hands of autocrats and enemies, we would be setting the stage for more instability as autocracy naturally breeds resistance. With a newly-installed autocrat, we might find ourselves with another civil war in Syria, or the formation of a terrorist group with aspirations of statehood like how ISIS rose out of the ashes of our exit from Iraq.
We would be losing a potential ally and losing possibly our only opportunity to help stabilize, democratize, and Westernize this region. The bottom line is that Trump wants to make the same foreign policy mistakes President Obama did and just hand this region to our enemies.
Not only would we be capitulating this region to our enemies, we would be betraying our allies as well. Trump pledged to stand by our allies, contrasting himself to Obama whom he said turned his back on those allies.
Apparently, Trump is not a man of his word, because he would be betraying America’s closest Mideast ally, Israel, whose existence and peace would be threatened by an Iranian and Hezbollah permanent military presence in Syria, potentially forcing them to go to war with either or both of those groups.
Withdrawing would also be finalizing our complete betrayal and abandonment of our Kurdish allies in the region. We have consistently ignored their plight, one of the biggest moral failings of the Trump administration thus far.
The simple fact is that we owe the Kurds, as they were the ones who forced ISIS out of much of Iraq and Syria. It was with our help, but they were the ones doing the fighting and dying. For us to have turned our backs on them when they are being slaughtered by Turkey and then pulling out of Syria when they need our help the most, would be an unforgivable sin.
Trump’s desire to pull out of Syria is a mistake on every conceivable level. It leaves the future of the region in the hands of our enemies, in the hands of nations and groups who do not have peace, liberty, or anybody’s interest in mind except their own. It will breed instability and chaos in the region, leading to more conflict and bloodshed. It is a betrayal of our allies. There are no positives.
This urge is premature, rash, and careless. If this actually occurs, Syria will be Trump’s Iraq. We need to up our presence in Syria. We need to put more money into relief efforts and rebuilding efforts. We need to put more boots on the ground to ensure that our allies are safe and our interests secured when the discussion inevitably begins as to what a post war Syria will look like.
To do anything else is a catastrophic mistake and a betrayal of American values and interests in favor of the appearance of progress in the fight against ISIS.
We prematurely said “Mission accomplished.” Look what happened then, but this time we have the benefit of hindsight and previous experience. The president needs to come to his senses, study our very recent history, and realize that while the fight against ISIS is winding down, the real fight, for the future of this vital region is just beginning, and for the sake of liberty, life and the Western world, the U.S. needs to be a part of it.