This statement from John McLaughlin reflects a lot of what’s wrong with American foreign policy establishment thinking about Syria and the U.S. role in the world:
.@jmclaughlinSAIS  on Syria: Getting out too soon means turning Syria over to Russia and Iran…fundamentally sending to a message to the Middle East and beyond that the US is no longer a leader there. #AMR 
— Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) April 16, 2018 
If the illegal U.S. military presence in Syria has to continue so that the U.S. doesn’t “turn over” Syria to the allies of the Syrian government, U.S. forces are never going to leave. Syria was never ours to “turn over” to anyone else, and it never will be. Syria has been a Soviet/Russian client for longer than I have been alive, and it has been aligned with Iran for decades. The U.S. cannot stop Syria from being “turned over” to Russian and Iranian influence because it has been in their orbits all along. It was the unsuccessful and costly effort by the U.S. and our allies and clients to drag Syria out of their orbits that contributed to the devastation of the country, and it is long past time that we acknowledged the failure of that effort.
U.S. “leadership” in the Middle East is vastly overrated and it would be a good thing for the U.S. and the region if our government stopped trying to have such an active “leadership” role there. That said, the U.S. position in the region does not hinge on what it does or doesn’t do in Syria. If the U.S. ended its illegal military presence in Syria tomorrow, it would undoubtedly annoy the Saudis and Israelis and a few other bad clients, but that shouldn’t be a reason to keep U.S. soldiers illegally in a war zone where no vital U.S. interests are at stake. Maintaining U.S. “leadership and securing actual American interests have little or nothing in common, and our leaders need to stop neglecting the latter for the sake of the former.