Trump, ignore war hawks and end US role in Syria

Trump, ignore war hawks and end US role in Syria
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After eight years of brutal fighting, the civil and proxy war in Syria is finally slowing down in intensity. Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped Washington from offering recommendations that would draw the United States further into the conflict when it should be getting out.

On May 1, a congressionally organized Syria Study Group, handpicked by the establishment, sent its interim report to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Russian interference reports rock Capitol Hill Top GOP super PAC spent money on NC Democrat MORE (R-Ky.) outlining its initial findings and policy options. While they run the gambit from suspending the U.S. troop withdrawal in northeastern Syria to mounting even more economic and political pressure on the Assad regime, the report in general was a call for more U.S. intervention in the war.

The group’s participants in effect demand the U.S. double down and turn the victory against ISIS into failure. They want to keep U.S. soldiers tied down in Syria indefinitely and transform their mandate to state-buildering and peacekeeping between the Turks on one side and the Kurds on the other. All of this would be in addition to constructing an alternative Syrian governing structure from scratch under U.S. protection.


The authors seek to engage the U.S. in another long, costly and unnecessary nation-building enterprise in the Middle East.

Nearly 400 lawmakers in both the House and Senate seem to sympathize with the argument. On May 20, a letter was delivered to President Donald Trump with the typical Beltway buzzwords included — like “leadership” and “resolve”— to promote what can only be interpreted as a long-term U.S. entanglement in Syria and a transformation of the mission.

The letter is the usual boilerplate nonsense interventionists have peddled since Syria’s civil war began in 2011. In sum: the Russians and Iranians are bad actors; terrorists continue to conduct attacks; and the U.S. needs to double down and respond on all fronts lest its adversaries are emboldened.

Hopefully the president throws these letters in the garbage where they belong.

The honest and brutal truth is that however horrible the war has been to the Syrian people—and it has been an unmitigated disaster — Syria was never as strategically important to the United States as interventionists claimed.


The Assad regime was a U.S. adversary before the fighting and bombing started and it will likely remain an adversary when the fighting ends. The United States has three core national security interests in the Middle East — working withavoiding major disruptions to the flow of oil producers to ensure the market is adequately supplied and prices arestable; preventing a hegemon from dominating the region and its resources; and defending the American people from transnational terrorism.

None of these objectives depend on which personality rules the roost in Damascus or how many American soldiers are stationed in remote desert outposts like al-Tanf. Syria is no prize for any outside power — managing its civil war and rebuilding effort will require hundreds of billions of dollars over a generation and will represent a resource drain, just like Iraq and Afghanistan has drained U.S. power.

Those who oppose a U.S. troop withdrawal will play all kinds of rhetorical games, claiming such a departure would be complacency. But this is about as accurate as saying Washington owes the Syrian Kurds foreign protection when in fact it is the Kurds who should be thanking the United States for using air power to roll back a group that posed an existential threat to their community.

We shouldn’t fool ourselves about Syria’s awful state. Local jihadists with largely local grievances will remain on Syrian soil for a long time to come. We will hear news of suicide bombings, shootings and ambushes against civilians, Kurdish forces and Syrian soldiers for years. And there is no denying the reality that the Syrian government will remain dependent on Russia and Iran, as it has for decades.

But if U.S. policymakers fail to recognize the victory that defeating the Islamic State’s caliphate means — depriving it of organizational opportunities and the allure to attract jihadis globally — then victory will always be elusive and U.S. troops will never leave. The United States has far higher national security priorities in a world where the center of geopolitical competition is moving to the Asia-Pacific. Washington shouldn’t invest more lives, money and attention into a country President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Gov. Ron DeSantis more popular in Florida than Trump Sotomayor accuses Supreme Court of bias in favor of Trump administration MORE has referred to as “sand and death.”

U.S. counterterrorism goals are much likelier to be achieved through more efficient policies. The way to keep the American people safe is not to sign up for another endless military deployment with exceedingly low chances of success.

The U.S. can monitor and target terrorists anywhere in the globe without permanent ground forces. The U.S. can also nurture the pragmatic, transactional intelligence relationships between the United States and partners in the region that have upended so many terrorist plots in the past.

While Washington doesn’t want to admit it, Bashar al-Assad has won the civil war. Iran and Russia now own the Syria problem — why would the United States take that burden from them?

President Trump should follow his original instincts and get out of Syria. Rather than preventing the Syrian Kurds from reaching their own accommodations, the U.S. should step out of the way and allow Kurdish factions to negotiate directly their own accords with the Assad regime.  Washington can also use whatever diplomatic leverage it has in Syria to encourage protection for others who face hardships in post-war Syria. But none of those goals should slow a U.S. military withdrawal. The Islamic State’s territorial caliphate is wiped off the map. Now it’s time for countries that live in the region to mop up the remnants.

Daniel R. DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities, a Washington, D.C.-based foreign policy organization focused on promoting security, economic prosperity and peace.