Is Trump wrong for pulling out of Syria?
There has been much hue and cry about the recent decision to remove American forces from Syria. The Kurds were stalwart allies in the fight against ISIS. It appears that we abandoned a valuable ally in the region.
While I continue to despise President Trump’s methodology of announcing policy decisions (an adolescent-like tweet in the middle of the night), I believe the general policy of disengaging our military from the disparate actions in the far-flung fringes of the world is something who’s time is long overdue.
In what is probably a politically incorrect comment, yet a very apt description, our foreign policy is reminiscent of the Uncle Remus tale. We go into a place, supposedly with limited objectives and for a purported temporary timeframe, yet consistently seem to “get stuck to the Tar Baby.” We virtually never seem to accomplish the (ill-defined) goals and therefore, never seem to be able to leave.
The United States currently has over 170,000 active-duty personnel serving in more than 150 foreign countries. These include support for our traditional allies in Europe and Asia. But we have pushed deployments into former Soviet bloc countries including those with borders on Russia (e.g., the Ukraine). There are also forces left in remote countries in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia (How many Americans can pronounce, much less locate, Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan?). Every time we sally forth, we seem to get mired in the chaos of the world, much of it of our own making.
Clearly, many of these bases are important to the defense of U.S. interests (relatively few of which are actually vital to the survival of the United States). However, numerous dispositions have lost their raison d’etre; they are the residual from previous deployments without a compelling reason for being there. Once we have sent our military in, we seem extremely resistant to removing them. It seems like a retreat.
There arises a circular logic that puts us in an endless loop-unable to create a meaningful endstate and unable to disengage. We can’t leave because it would damage our credibility; however, our credibility is only at stake because we got involved in a conflict that can’t be won. If we can’t win, we can’t leave. But we can’t win…so we are stuck.
We got involved in Syria to defeat a threat from the radical Islamists of ISIS. That has largely been accomplished (with the help of Kurdish fighters). The stated limited mission was accomplished. One might now ask what we are still doing there?
The problem is that the Kurds have a lot of antagonists besides ISIS. The Syrian government (and by association, Russia) see them as a threat to the regime. The Turks view them as a threat because the Kurdish militia, the YPG, has committed definable acts of terrorism in Turkey. Kurds on both sides of the border wish to establish an autonomous Kurdish state and are willing to fight for it. This is further complicated by the fact that Turkey is a long-standing member of NATO, an alliance that has been key to the security of Europe.
While we can be sympathetic to the Kurd’s plight, this is not our fight, nor our problem to solve. In fact, there is no solution given the exigent circumstances in the region.
The Kurds helped us, now we feel an obligation to protect them against other threats in the area. That was not what we entered the conflict to do. There was never an intention to create a (semi) permanent presence in that county. We stuck ourselves to the Tar Baby once again.
This is “mission creep”-the incremental expansion of objectives outside the bounds of the original assignment. It happens over and over- our disastrous foray into Somalia in the 1990s (think Black Hawk Down) was another example. Isn’t it more credible to do what we say? Get in-do what we intend-then get out.
We are “stuck” all over the globe. If we are serious about bringing our troops home, from extracting ourselves from unwinnable and untenable situations, we have to accept that we cannot solve the world’s problems and our constant attempts to “fix” the unfixable have created a situation in which we must constantly deploy American forces (more importantly, put them into harm’s way) and keep them there in perpetuity. This is a recipe for failure.
The question is not whether to bring them back, it is how and when. History has proven that there is no good “how.” Therefore, we must simply decide when.
This brings us back to the current crisis in Syria. If we have fundamentally fulfilled the initial intent of the deployment. And…there is no reasonable solution to the intractable multi-faceted hostility in the region-staying a year longer will not “fix” the Kurdish problem. Exactly what is happening now will happen then. What other rational choice is there but to leave?
Is Trump wrong for pulling out of Syria? I do not know whether the “cold turkey” approach is the best course of action, but, at least President Trump has had the courage to do what other politicians and policy-makers have advocated but been unable or unwilling to do: begin to reduce our exposure and extract ourselves from unwinnable situations. For that, I have to respect the President’s actions.