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Syria pullout: The right thing… done the wrong way… for (mostly) the wrong reasons



Syria pullout The right thing done the wrong way for mostly the wrong reasons

The United States military’s mission in Syria is effectively done. It should have been done long ago, but President Obama’s strategy of utilizing Syrian rebels to fight both the Islamic State and Bashar al-Assad’s regime was misguided and mostly ineffective. He tried to kill two birds with one stone and effectively missed them both.

America has spent too much time, money, and resources on a plan that miserably failed at one goal – removing Assad – and delayed the elimination of the Islamic State as a regional power. The right move would have been an unambiguous, asymmetrical assault by a multi-national coalition of western and Middle Eastern forces to wipe out the Islamic State in spectacular (and quick) fashion, but President Obama chose instead to be clever.

As for Assad’s regime, he should have left it alone completely. Attempts to arm and train the rebels, which are comprised of a hodgepodge of forces that include Sunni Islamic extremists and was 15%-25% al Qaeda when the decision was made, was a disastrous half-measure. It did more harm than good, which is why Assad is still there, the Islamic State is not obliterated, and U.S. troops remain.

But that’s what President Trump inherited, so it is incumbent on him to decide how to fix the mess. That would require pulling out of Syria, which he has decided to do against the wishes of his cabinet. Defense Secretary James Mattis has resigned in protest over the move.

Let’s break down why the President is doing the right thing, how he’s doing it the wrong way, and why his reasoning for doing so is flawed.

Pulling out is the right move

If there’s one way to unify Democrats, neocons, and most mainstream conservatives, it’s for the President to order an abrupt withdrawal of forces from Syria. They all have different reasons for their disagreement with the President, but it seems like most are in agreement that it’s the wrong move.

They’re all wrong. It’s definitely the right thing to do even if he’s doing it for the wrong reasons. More on his reasoning in a moment. First, let’s discuss why it’s the right move.

The forces who are being painted by mainstream media as our “allies” among the Kurdish rebels are not and have never actually done our bidding. They were made allies by President Obama because they faced the threat of the Islamic State pressing on them from one side while Assad’s regime pressed on them from the other side. President Obama saw it as an opportunity to help them fight their battle so we didn’t have to get our hands dirty.

But it failed. The Islamic State was mostly defeated through other means; the Kurdish forces we propped up to be the main fighting force against them were only able to occupy areas left by the Islamic State following American air strikes. They were ineffective at actually fighting them in any meaningful way. The Peshmerga in Iraq, on the other hand, drove the Islamic State out with little U.S. support.

That’s all in the past. The present situation is one where 99% of the lands the Islamic State controlled at its peak have been taken back. Their numbers are dwindling to the point that U.S. involvement is no longer required.

In other words, it’s time to let the Middle East handle the Middle East’s problems.

As my wife said in a video yesterday, our military presence there is no longer needed.

The biggest argument for not pulling out is that Iran, Russia, and Turkey will now move in to fill the void. This is factually wrong. It’s not that they won’t continue to move in (they’re already there). It’s that they can and are moving in whether we’re there or not.

Our presence is not a deterrent to them coming it. It’s a deterrent to them attacking the Kurdish rebels. Some would argue that it’s the same thing; the rebel presence, by critics’ estimates, is the only thing stopping a complete takeover by outside forces. But once again, remaining is a half-measure. It does not stop Iran or Russia from exerting more control over Syria. It only serves to destabilize the nation and give the Kurds cover. Our troops are essentially human shields.

It’s unfortunate that the Kurds will now have to fight without our troops deterring attacks, but they were fighting before we got there and they’ll be fighting after we leave. But if the President pulled out the right way, this wouldn’t be as big of a problem.

But we’re doing it the wrong way

Just because the Kurdish rebels were ineffective and had their own agenda does not remove our obligation to give them assistance. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to give them military assistance.

The President has the ability to negotiate with all the players involved. Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Russia all want the United States out of Syria so they can exert more control. This is the President’s leverage. He is failing to use it.

Instead of announcing a pullout on Twitter, he should have called all the groups to the table. They would have come running if he said the United States would pull out if certain criteria were met. Those criteria could have been:

  • A cease-fire in the region currently controlled by the Kurds
  • No incursions into the territory
  • A summit to be held between the Assad regime and the rebels to discuss terms for a permanent peace

If the President is as great at negotiating as he claims, all of these demands could be feasible. There would be repercussions; the Kurds in Turkey would have to be cut off completely from the Kurds in Syria, which would only be made possible by a Turkish-controlled buffer at the border, for example. But the end result would have been acceptable to most parties involved.

The abrupt pullout is the President folding the winning poker hand. Unfortunately, his reasoning for doing so is horrible.

Pulling out for the wrong reason

When the announcement was made, I wondered if the President had been bullied.

Did Turkey just bully the United States into withdrawing from Syria? timing of the announcement is conspicuous following a phone meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday. Erdogan has opposed the United States’ cooperation with the Kurds, who he considers to be a terrorist group bent on destabilizing the Middle East and usurping his power.

Withdrawing from Syria will leave our Kurdish allies open to attacks from Turkey.

According to the Associated Press, my concerns were justified.

Trump call with Turkish leader led to US pullout from Syria“The talking points were very firm,” said one of the officials, explaining that Trump was advised to clearly oppose a Turkish incursion into northern Syria and suggest the U.S. and Turkey work together to address security concerns. “Everybody said push back and try to offer (Turkey) something that’s a small win, possibly holding territory on the border, something like that.”

With Erdogan on the line, Trump asked national security adviser John Bolton, who was listening in, why American troops remained in Syria if what the Turkish president was saying was true, according to the officials. Erdogan’s point, Bolton was forced to admit, had been backed up by Mattis, Pompeo, U.S. special envoy for Syria Jim Jeffrey and special envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition Brett McGurk, who have said that IS retains only 1 percent of its territory, the officials said.

The reasons we need to pull out of Syria in a systematic manner following negotiations with everyone involved are:

  • Our interests are no longer being served there with the Islamic State decimated
  • Any military presence in the region should be temporary
  • The costs to maintain our presence there are too high with limited reward
  • The only power in the region that needs our support is Israel

Conspicuously not on the list is appeasing the despot in Turkey.

I cannot say this with a certainty, but I suspect the state of affairs in the United States also led to the decision. Between bad press from his former associates pertaining to the Robert Mueller investigation and the looming government shutdown over the border wall, the timing of the Syrian move is conspicuous. The President has been known to cover up bad press with different bad press. It’s a tactic that helped him win the election, but it’s a dangerous tactic to use now that he’s President.

We need to bring our troops home now that the Islamic State is small enough for regional powers to handle. But the “how” and “why” regarding the President’s move are terrible. It’s as if he has no understanding of the repercussions of his whims.