Six reasons Trump must not withdraw US troops from Syria, but send in more
US President Donald Trump wants to withdraw military forces from Syria. But Defence Secretary James Mattis seems to have persuaded him to postpone this plan for at least six months, citing strategic necessity.
However, US forces must not only remain in Syria, but be further augmented, to ensure the security of our allies and stabilise the region, especially now that the regional turmoil is likely to intensify in the wake of the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. The reasons for further boosting US forces in Syria are manifold.
First, stronger US forces will give credence to America’s recent demands that Iran leave Syria and stop threatening Israel’s existence with impunity.
Second, an enlarged American military presence in Syria would force Tehran to think twice before it further entrenches itself in the country.
Third, without a military presence, the US will not be in a position to influence the development of events after the defeat of Islamic State. It will be left to Russia, Iran and, to a lesser extent, Turkey to determine the future of Syria. American allies in the region will be adversely affected by the nature of any outcome.
Watch: Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron try to find common ground on Syria
Fourth, the continuing US military presence will prevent Islamic State from re-emerging in Iraq and Syria. No one should relate the group’s defeat in the battlefield with their ideological durability. They have already emerged elsewhere in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.
Fifth, nothing will deter the main antagonistic players in Syria – the regime of Bashar al-Assad, Russia, Iran and Turkey – other than a robust American military presence, sending a clear message that the US intends to play a weighty role in the search for a solution.
Sixth, since the start of the conflict, the US – under both Barack Obama and Trump – has sent a clear signal that it has no geostrategic or security interest to be deeply involved in Syria’s civil war, merely providing marginal financial and limited military training to rebels in their fight against the Assad regime. This indecisive approach has been a dismal failure, it has marginalised the US while allowing Russia, Iran and Turkey to disregard America.
This dangerous slide cannot be reversed by simply bombing some of Assad’s chemical facilities and storage, as Trump has done twice in the past. The US cannot impact the development of events in Syria without a credible and strong military backing.
Dr Alon Ben-Meir, professor, Centre for Global Affairs, New York University