James Jeffrey, the State Department’s special representative for Syria, said the United States would maintain a presence in the country, possibly including an extended military mission, until Iran withdraws the soldiers and militia forces it commands. U.S. officials expect that possible outcome only after world powers broker a deal ending the war.
It is tempting to refer to this as mission creep, but this is really a case of beginning a completely new, different, and unrelated mission as an excuse to keep U.S. forces in Syria indefinitely. Keeping U.S. troops in Syria until Iran “retreats” gives Iran an easy way to dictate our policy for us. They have no reason to withdraw, and our illegal presence in Syria puts no pressure on them to leave. On the contrary, a continued, illegal U.S. presence in Syria is not going to make Iran more inclined to withdraw its forces. It gives them added incentive to do what they were already going to do. Because withdrawal is something that this administration is demanding of Iran, it is the last thing that Iran’s government is going to want to do.
Besides the sheer illegality of the mission that the administration is proposing, the most striking thing is that it has absolutely no connection to U.S. or allied security. Iran’s military presence in Syria may not be desirable, but their evacuation from Syria isn’t necessary for the security of the United States or any treaty allies. Iran and Syria have been allies for decades, and Iran’s support for the Syrian government has only strengthened that relationship. Unless and until the Syrian government no longer wants them there, Iran has no reason to leave, and both governments have no reason to pay attention to Washington’s preferences.
The administration’s bankrupt Iran policy and its illegal war in Syria have joined together to create a truly dangerous and reckless commitment that could bog the U.S. down in part of Syria for a long time to come. Keeping U.S. forces in Syria until Iran withdraws all its troops and proxies would be a multi-decade undertaking:
According to one Western diplomat, Iran has spent tens of billions of dollars in Syria and lost thousands of fighters in support of the Assad regime. If the United States keeps a military presence in Syria for as long as the Iranians, that would mean “decades at the very least,” said the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss American policy.
The U.S. is very bad at ending its open-ended military missions around the world. If Trump is allowed to get away with maintaining an illegal military presence in Syria, it is quite possible that the mission could last long after he leaves office. The time for stopping it and bringing U.S. forces out of Syria is now, because in another few years the blatantly illegal policy will have become accepted as just one more in a string of illegal presidential wars.
It can’t be emphasized strongly enough that U.S. forces have no authorization to be in Syria for any reason, and every day that Trump keeps them there he is violating the Constitution.