Paul Pillar objects to the Trump administration’s policy of committing the U.S. to oppose Iran’s military presence in Syria, and he observes that this decision has been made without any debate or Congressional authorization:
That shift warrants much more scrutiny and debate than it is getting. U.S. service members are being dispatched to a foreign war for the purpose of somehow getting one Middle Eastern state that has had a longstanding security relationship with another Middle Eastern state to remove its personnel from that second state [bold mine-DL]. Exactly how are U.S. interests supposedly affected by whether those personnel stay or go? The only Americans who might be harmed under one scenario but not the other are the very soldiers who are being dispatched. The Syrian-Iranian alliance has existed for decades, going back to when the two states shared an adversary in the form of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. The issue is not only whether U.S. interests are affected but whether they are affected enough to justify the participation of the U.S. military in a foreign war—which should entail a higher standard.
Pillar’s description of the administration’s policy shows us how absurd it is. It makes no difference to U.S. vital interests if Iran keeps some military personnel in Syria, and it certainly isn’t something that we should be risking the lives of American soldiers to change. If Syria’s hostile neighbors don’t like that, it is not the responsibility of our government to fix it for them. The Trump administration’s Syria policy is just one of many parts of its foreign policy that make a mockery of the idea that Trump puts American interests first. No U.S. interests are served by an endless, illegal war in Syria, and by risking a larger conflict with the Syrian government and its patrons this policy poses a threat to U.S. and international security.
A continued U.S. military presence in Syria has nothing to do with protecting Americans or the citizens of our treaty allies, and so it has nothing to do with self-defense or the defense of allies. There is no international mandate for a U.S. military mission in Syria, and our forces are in Syrian territory in defiance of the Syrian government’s wishes. Our forces have no legitimate reason to be there, and there is no legal basis for keeping them there. The Trump administration is risking war with as many as three governments in order to occupy part of someone else’s country indefinitely for the sake of an unachievable goal that has no connection to U.S. security in the first place. Congress has not voted for any of this, and the public is probably only vaguely aware that there are U.S. forces in Syria. Americans did not vote for any of this, they haven’t consented to it, their representatives have never debated or authorized any of it. I doubt that most Americans would support it once they were made aware of it, but the point is that the question has never been put before the voters or their representatives.