Trump’s Withdrawal from Syria Will Make America Weak Again
The United States announced Wednesday that it was withdrawing troops from Syria after what it described as the “defeat” of the Islamic State terrorist group. This decision is a fatal miscalculation with potentially devastating consequences for Syria and the region.
Our enemies are weakened but by no means defeated. Our allies neither secure nor safe.
Islamic State has been driven out of all major cities in Iraq and Syria. Their fighting force has been decimated and large sums of cash are no longer flowing into their pockets. But the ideological hinterland of the group is still intact. The dream of the caliphate lives on. And their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is alive, still preaching to tens of thousands of angry young men ready to fight.
Just a few days ago, the Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, Brett McGurk, said that “nobody is saying that [IS fighters] are going to disappear. Nobody is that naive.” He’s right. The group has active franchises in Yemen, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, and Nigeria.
The rise of Islamic State was a direct product of the brutality of the Syrian civil war. For as long as Assad and his supporters continue to slaughter Syria’s tortured population, the emergence of another powerful terrorist group is just around the corner.
Which leads me to the second problem: The Kurds. Most of the 2,000 American troops stationed in Syria are advising militias made up of Kurdish and Arab soldiers, the so-called Popular Mobilization Units. They’re our most potent weapon in the fight against Islamic extremism.
But they’re not without enemies. Turkey considers the American-backed Kurdish forces, which control roughly 30 percent of Syria, to be terrorists and has been waiting for an opportunity to crush the Kurdish rebellion in the north of the country. Turkey’s actions so far have been restricted by the presence of American troops in the region but with their withdrawal Kurdish forces could become “fair game” for Ankara without any repercussions.
All of which would strengthen Islamic extremists in the country and their nemesis, the Assad regime and its supporters.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, together with its terror proxy Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militia forces, have been instrumental in helping the Assad regime change the direction of the war.
Iran has used the destruction in Syria as an excuse to build a significant military presence in the country. Syria has become the launching pad for the Islamic Republic’s aggressive, hegemonic ambitions and meddling in regional affairs. Their plan is to build a Shia Crescent by creating a link from Iran all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.
Israel has said all along that it will not tolerate a permanent Iranian entrenchment in Syria, exactly for that reason. The incursion of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace in February and the subsequent robust Israeli response show that Israel considers Iran’s efforts to consolidate their strategic position in Syria unsustainable.
The U.S. administration said on numerous occasions that the goal in Syria was not only the defeat of Islamic State, but also to protect allies in the region and deny Iran the ability to build its Shia Crescent.
The decision to withdraw troops has the exact opposite effect.
Assad will be emboldened. Iran will continue to send advanced weaponry to Hezbollah in Lebanon by way of Damascus in preparation for the next war with Israel. And Russia cannot be trusted to stop Iran’s menacing presence in Syria, nor the slaughter of the Assad regime or Turkey’s assault against Kurdish forces.
Withdrawing from Syria isn’t the answer. It will make America weak again.
Julie Lenarz is a senior fellow at The Israel Project.