“It’s time for our troops to come home,” Trump asserted on Wednesday, announcing that the United States is finally retreating their 2,000 troops from Syria after four years of military involvement in the Syrian Civil War (started by the Obama administration without Congressional approval as the bill never even reached a floor vote either in the House or Senate). According to Defense Department officials, Trump ordered the withdrawal to be completed within 30 days. Having continued the fight the Obama administration started as a campaign against the Islamic terrorist groups Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Nusra Front (later a faction of al-Qaeda) in the region, Trump contended in his announcement that “we” have now “won against ISIS.”
However, not only neo-conservatives like John Bolton , Mike Pompeo  and Jim Mattis  have opposed the withdrawal. Writers for the Democrat-leaning New York Times have argued that the withdrawal, despite ISIS being largely decimated, will be “ceding a strategically vital country to Russia and Iran” and “rattling allies like Britain and Israel and forsaking Syria’s ethnic Kurds, who have been faithful partners in fighting the Islamic State.”
The first argument technically amounts to saying that one shouldn’t stop intervening in another country because other (opponent) countries may intervene there and get an advantage. It is the geo-political application of the sociological-economical concept of the “tragedy of the commons” which says that a pool of publicly available limited resources will be depleted quickly as one wants to get some of it before it gets empty by other people taking all of it. It may sound plausible that this applies to U.S. involvement in Syria, but does it really? Now that ISIS is pretty much gone, what does the U.S. have left to earn in the conflict? Continuing to waste American lives on a civil war they have nothing to do with? No matter what Bashar al-Assad and his administration does, it is not up to the United States any more than the United Nations to act as a world police force to prevent unwanted behaviors by other governments through other means than diplomatic ones (that is, peaceful negotiations). The argument by the NYT writers here reminds me of the issue of disarmament of nuclear weapons during the cold war. Someone must start if anything is to come of it, though neither of the parts may want to be the first one. Russia and Iran may want to take some advantage in the region, but that doesn’t justify continuing military involvement by the U.S. there, especially not when the Congress hasn’t authorized it.
I’ll take the second argument in two parts: Israel and the Kurds, disregarding Britain as it too shouldn’t be a part in the conflict.
According to the Straits Times, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has discussed the matter with President Trump and said on Wednesday that “Israel will defend itself after the US withdraws from Syria.” Thus the decision doesn’t “rattle” Israel as they already were aware and alright with the decision.
It has been the major concern echoed by everyone from Vox to Fox that the Syrian Kurds will be worse off without protection from U.S. soldiers against Syrian military and Islamic extremist groups. John Glaser, the director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, who favors the withdrawal, recognizes the issue here, saying that “Syria is unlikely to achieve peace and security in the near term: The Turks may engage in operations against the Kurds in Syria’s northeast, and ISIS may make some gains.” He continues, however, by saying that “That doesn’t justify an unauthorized and indefinite military presence,” and alternatively suggesting that
U.S. diplomats can try to curb Turkish plans against the Kurds.
ISIS’ permanent defeat probably does not require a U.S. ground presence in Syria. ISIS is already decimated, and it’s surrounded by enemies determined to nip its potential re-emergence in the bud.
It’s impossible for the U.S. to forestall every unwanted contingency in the region. Just as ISIS itself was a byproduct of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, so too could a continued presence in Syria create unintended consequences.
To summarize, leaving the conflict will not end the war, but it will decrease its tensions to a regional conflict from a global proxy conflict and have the relevant parties take care of their own issues, making an end to the war more likely to soon approach the horizon.
For those opposing U.S. involvement in the Middle East, this is a big step in the right direction, but we cannot be satisfied yet. The 19-year-long war against Afghanistan continues to escalate, but there also seems to be progress with pushing the U.S. to end the war in Yemen. A Senate resolution to end U.S. military support to Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen passed by 56-41 last Thursday (13. Dec), marking the first time the Senate has utilized powers granted under the 1973 War Powers Act to demand an end to military actions. Despite this progress, the measure must still go through the House of Representatives and the President’s signatures, both of which are reportedly unlikely to happen. However, one may be hopeful that ending intervention in Syria has gotten Trump inspired to continue withdrawing U.S. forces from other parts of the Middle East as Trump tweeted [1, 2] on Thursday that
Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever? Time for others to finally fight Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us. I am building by far the most powerful military in the world. ISIS hits us they are doomed!
Libertarians are generally (and rightfully) pessimistic to the State self-regulating its powers. “For war is essentially the health of the State,” as Randolph Bourne has said, “The ideal of the State is that within its territory its power and influence should be universal.” Some times, however, people stand up, saying “enough is enough” and exerts pressure to mitigate the State’s suppression. Ending the war in Afghanistan may be a far stretch to expect Congress or Trump to try to end, but ending the military support of the Saudi-led war in Yemen may now be within reach as the Senate resolution has passed and that people are still reacting to the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Embassy in Turkey, which according to the CIA was ordered personally by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Getting Trump to oppose the Saudis, however, may be mere wishful thinking.
- Trump’s National Security Adviser and author of op-eds such as “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First”, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran” and “The only mistake of the Iraq war was that we didn’t get rid of Saddam Hussein sooner.”
- Secretary of State in the Trump administration.
- Secretary of Defense in the Trump administration.