“We can’t repair Syria—and it’s not our job to do it.” That’s what a senior officer told Mark Perry, a contributing editor at The American Conservative. That’s a perfect assessment of America’s position in Syria today.
Trump’s decision to leave Syria behind is absolutely rational. The benefits will accrue almost immediately, with America’s Air Force and other military branches getting a break from the forever-war foisted on them by neocons over a decade ago, and the opportunity to repair relations with NATO-ally turned antagonist, Turkey.
Russia can be asked to deal with the small group of remaining ISIS forces in Syria, and they surely will. The Russians have much more to lose in Syria, and America has little to gain. Putin will ensure some level of stability in Syria to maintain his country’s warm water naval station there. Perry writes (abridged):
“We need a respite,” a senior military officer told us in the wake of the Trump decision, “and that’s especially true for the Air Force. Those guys have been in the air over the Middle East since Operation Enduring Freedom, back in 2001. These guys are running on fumes.”
Nor, as we’ve been told, are senior military officers concerned that the announced U.S. withdrawal from Syria gives Putin a victory. “Complete and absolute nonsense,” a very senior officer who served multiple tours in the region told us. “I hate to put it this way, but I think it’s true. We can’t repair Syria—and it’s not our job to do it. If Putin wants to inherit it, that’s fine.”
Which is not to say that Trump’s decision has been greeted unanimously. In the wake of his Friday decision, the administration’s foreign policy triumvirate of James Mattis, John Bolton, and Mike Pompeo pushed back, arguing that keeping U.S. troops in Syria was essential, if for no other reason than to keep a high U.S. profile in the region. Their arguments were predictable, if outspoken: ISIS isn’t really defeated, Iran is on the march, the U.S. needs to show solidarity with its Kurdish allies.
Trump, channeling Erdogan( Trump-Erdogan exchange), pushed back on each of them—ISIS is finished, Iran could be countered in other ways and, as Erdogan had told him, the Kurds were already talking with the Assad government about an accommodation that would keep them in northeastern Syria
In truth, as we were told by a senior Turkish diplomat who was privy to the Trump-Erdogan exchange, the decision had been made on Friday, when Trump told Erdogan that he agreed that the U.S. could withdraw its troops from Syria.
When can you do that? Erdogan had asked. Trump wasn’t sure, so he turned to his national security adviser, who was listening in on the conversation.
Can we do it today? Now? Trump asked. Bolton nodded: “Yes,” he said.
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