As always with President Trump, if you don’t like one of his announced decisions, wait a couple of news cycles and he will have rethought, regrouped, and often changed course. And this now appears to be the case with his surprise announcement that all U. S. troops will immediately be pulled out of Syria, so stay tuned.
I didn’t like the decision in the first place, and the way he managed the announcement made the decision itself much worse. No one doubts his authority as commander in chief to have made the decision, but he probably violated every rule of management and leadership protocol in the process, alienating allies, senior staff, and Pentagon military leaders, and it will cost him in ways not yet visible, particularly in the humiliating resignation of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a major loss. And I might add that his resignation letter was a masterpiece, especially in describing the necessity to be “resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours” and that “our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships”.
The pullout decision itself was a mistake for many of the reasons that have been aired by knowledgeable observers–the abandonment of our Kurd allies, who at a minimum we owe protection and support for their self-determination; the creation of a vacuum that will be filled by Russia and Iran; the prospect of Turkey using our departure to inflict brutalities on Syria’s Kurds it sees as terrorists; and the risk that ISIS, although severely crippled, is not yet completely defeated.
So where are we now? Expect a complete review of Trump’s irrational knee-jerk decision and I predict at least a significant delay, but who knows? The bottom line for me is that America is the only honest broker in the region and our presence there at some level will be essential for some time to come, in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Call me a neoconservative if it fits, but I still believe that our power in all of its instruments has a role to play not only in protecting American interests, but in maintaining order, and that our policy should also continue to have space for support of self-determination and a “freedom agenda” without “nation-building”. And in case you’re wondering, yes, we must maintain a close and undiminished strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia, although I am not pleased with Trump’s insufficient condemnation of the Saudi crown prince’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
This is a very difficult and dangerous neighborhood and Trump was left a mess by Barack Obama—the “red line” legacy in Syria, the terrible Iran nuclear agreement, premature withdrawal, etc.—and frankly so far he hasn’t altered the strategic balance of forces, so it remains an area in which American exceptionalism as the “indispensable nation” is most essential.
Greg Stachura says
In hindsight, the second Iraq War was likely a mistake. The vacuum left by the ouster of Saddam Hussein has attracted many ambitious interests and the region has been unstable since that time.
Hindsight is indeed 20/20. Can it improve foresight?
Bill Peacock says
OK, Jim, you asked for it: Neocon.
Ann McCulloch says
To pull out of Syria would expose the Kurds to annihilation by the Turks.
Trump would lose my vote by his lack of integrity here & in his coverup for the Saudi crown prince.
Vernon E Wuensche says
Jim, you always seem to express my own views so perfectly. You are dead on in every way with this piece. What America does in the countries you mentioned is on the order of maintenance of the status quo–not building something new. Afghanistan is a case in point. With its tribal nature and not centralized control it will be very difficult to significantly improve things there militarily BUT by being there we might be able to prevent the terrorist threat to us from growing
JIm Lockart says
Jim, I agree with your thoughts on this subject. I have a close friend who just returned from his sixth deployment somewhere in that area. ISIS may have lost its territory, but it is still very dangerous. The Kurds and our special forces are the only effective fighters against ISIS. Our withdrawal will leave a great void that will make controlling ISIS only more difficult in the future. Thanks for your thoughts and God speed, Jim