Home/Daniel Larison/The Ugly Results of an Absurd Syria Policy

The Ugly Results of an Absurd Syria Policy

Trump has opened the door to a Turkish incursion into Syria:

Donald Trump has given the green light to a contentious Turkish military operation in north-east Syria against the main US allies in the battle with Isis, triggering alarm in Washington and Europe and plunging the campaign against jihadis into uncertainty.

The US has started withdrawing troops from the vicinity of a looming Turkish incursion, following Mr Trump’s phone call with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, on Sunday night.

The White House said the US military, which has about 1,000 troops in Syria, would not “support or be involved in the operation” that Turkey has repeatedly threatened to launch against US-backed Kurdish militias. In a statement, it said US forces would “no longer be in the immediate area”.

Removing U.S. forces from the area avoids having them caught up in the Turkish military operation. Unless the U.S. was prepared to oppose Turkey and defend the YPG, it’s not clear what purpose would be served by keeping those forces where they were. Our absurd Syria policy has put us in the untenable position of trying to keep the peace between mutually hostile “allies” for years, and eventually the U.S. was going to have to choose which “ally” it was going to side with. It is worth remembering that Turkey is a treaty ally and the YPG is at most a proxy that has proven to be useful over the last few years. If the U.S. is going to favor one or the other, it was never likely that our government would take the side of the YPG over Turkey.

This dilemma wouldn’t exist if the U.S. hadn’t been waging an illegal war in Syria for the past five years, and this should teach us to think very carefully about whether we should support armed groups in a conflict where we have few clear interests. The U.S. has a long history of supporting and then discarding armed proxies, and this will keep repeating itself as long as the U.S. gets involved in unnecessary wars that it will sooner or later quit. The solution isn’t to use U.S. forces as a buffer with no end in sight, as quite a few critics of this decision seem to want, but to refrain from sending U.S. forces into conflicts that don’t matter for U.S. security in the first place. Eventually our forces are going to leave places on the other side of the planet, and it is unrealistic and unfair to make promises of a more enduring commitment that everyone has to know won’t be kept.

Having said all that, the administration has handled all this very poorly. Like almost every Trump decision, the decision was made hastily and without coordinating with any of the people that would be affected by it. It isn’t clear that all U.S. forces will be withdrawn from Syria anytime soon, so it is possible that the illegal deployment there will continue somewhere else. And it wouldn’t be a Trump foreign policy decision if it didn’t involve making insane threats about destroying a country if its government does something he doesn’t like:

Trump clearly wants to have things both ways, but it won’t work. He is obviously wrong to threaten to “destroy and obliterate” the Turkish economy, and the language in his statement is deranged. Anyone who refers to his own “great and unmatched wisdom” obviously doesn’t have any wisdom to speak of, and it shows in this unhinged threat. For one thing, the threat isn’t likely to deter Erdogan from ordering an attack on Kurdish forces. The Turkish government sees the YPG as part of an intolerable threat, and they aren’t going to be coerced into changing their position on that. Following through on the threat would mean inflicting punishment on the people of Turkey for something their government has done, which would both inflame hostility to the U.S. and harm tens of millions of people without achieving anything.

These are all the ugly results of an absurd Syria policy and an illegal war that Trump escalated when he came into office. It should serve as a warning to future administrations about the pitfalls of involving the U.S. in wars we don’t need to fight and throwing our support behind “allies” that we will eventually leave in the lurch.

Update: The movement of U.S. forces is just a redeployment inside Syria:

Rep. Justin Amash says it best:

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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