Trump’s Syria withdrawal strengthens Erdogan, Putin and Assad while abandoning US allies
- The only thing that can deter strongmen like Assad, Putin, Erdogan and Iran’s mullahs is a robust US presence
- Syria’s Kurds will be among the first to bear the brunt as Erdogan moves against them
Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from Syria, against the advice of his senior advisers, is extremely reckless and bound to backfire on multiple fronts (“Mattis quits as Trump’s defence chief, writes scathing resignation letter”, December 21).
Without the US military presence in Syria, the region would be further destabilised by Russia, Iran and Turkey, forcing America’s allies to suffer the consequences of the vacuum we leave behind.
Furthermore, Trump’s claim that Islamic State has been defeated and that our mission is accomplished is nothing but a bald-faced lie. IS is still very much alive and the US’ military presence in Syria has both practical and symbolic implications that cannot be ignored. It is estimated that 15,000-20,000 fighters remain in the region, and scores of sleeper cells exist throughout the Middle East and Europe. But sadly, given Trump’s domestic troubles, he is desperate for a win, however presumptuous and uncanny, just before the end of the year.
More troubling, Trump shamelessly betrayed one of our closest allies in the fight against IS – the Syrian Kurds. Through his unconscionable decision, he left their fate to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is determined to battle the Syrian Kurds into submission while aiming to establish a permanent presence in the country.
Nothing will deter the main antagonistic players in Syria – the Assad regime, Russia, Iran and Turkey – other than a robust American military presence.
History is instructive and the US, regardless of its global geostrategic national interests, cannot involve itself in every conflict. That said, the US must not be paralysed by past misguided policies. But if we must withdraw our forces from any country, after 17 years it should be Afghanistan, where we are fighting a simply unwinnable war, no matter how much money and manpower we continue to dedicate to the war effort against the Taliban.
Trump’s haphazard and thoughtless decision to withdraw forces from Syria points only to his abdication of the US’ moral responsibility, not to speak of its global leadership, which has been dangerously waning under his disastrous policies.
Dr Alon Ben-Meir, professor, Centre for Global Affairs, NYU