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This is What ‘Withdrawal’ Looks Like

After months of hysteria, it seems even Donald Trump can't bring the troops home from Syria.

TOPSHOT - A convoy of US forces armoured vehicles drives near the village of Yalanli, on the western outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Manbij, on March 5, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / DELIL SOULEIMAN (Photo credit should read DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Or “withdraral,” as President Trump likes to say, and in my persistent East Coastism I sometimes say too. Here’s Reuters:

The United States has completed its military pullback in northeastern Syria, settling into a more stable posture of about 600 troops in the rest of the country after repositioning and reducing forces, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said.

Esper’s remarks in an interview with Reuters could signal the end of a period of turbulence and uncertainty surrounding the U.S. military presence in Syria after President Donald Trump’s initial withdrawal order in October.

And just how stark is this military pullback? It’s an isolationist doozy. Nearly 40 percent of all American troops in Syria have been withdrawn, with Esper offering only vague assurances that some of them could be sent back. A mere several hundred other U.S. military personnel have been sent into the country from Iraq and Kuwait, where they’ve been collaborating with Kurdish forces to attack Islamic State fighters. The fainthearted Donald Trump is pledging to protect Syrian oil and possibly steal it. And on Tuesday, the U.S. bowed to Code Pink when it killed a jihadist leader by hitting him with a bomb that deploys swords to hack its targets to death.

Surely this is what 1938 Munich felt like.

Remember, our political class responded to this halfhearted “withdrawal” with weeks of conniption fits. America was accused of forsaking its global responsibilities; Trump was said to be in league with a SPECTER-like association of dictators headed by Erdogan and, of course, PUTIN. Or alternatively, he was the geopolitical Edward VIII, abdicating his role as Chief Adjudicator of Pax Americana so he could focus on more frivolous matters, like the fate of the American middle class. On and on and on it went. Yet after all that, we’re still there and we still don’t have a coherent plan to leave. Trump’s so-called radical policy seems to have engendered little change at all.

Actually that’s not entirely true. The geopolitics of the Syrian conflict have changed significantly since Trump removed American troops from the Turkish border, as Turkey swooped into Syria and established a buffer zone between itself and the Kurds. So now Ankara is dictating terms to NATO, demanding that the Kurdish YPG be regarded as a terrorist threat. The Kurds are credibly accusing Turkish-backed militias of atrocities and Turkey itself of attempting to resettle their land with Arabs. And Trump is standing at the center of a smoke cloud, looking thoroughly tarnished as a commander-in-chief.

It isn’t that the president’s instincts aren’t correct—America does indeed need to leave Syria; it has no compelling reason to be there and no congressional mandate to stay. It’s that Trump’s temperament constantly roadblocks the proper implementation of those instincts. Trump is two things: impulsive and sensitive to criticism. The first of these was on display when, rather than lay the groundwork for a proper withdrawal, rather than reach out to the Astana participants or even meet with the Turks and Kurds directly, he hastily announced a pullout after a chat with Erdogan. This gave NATO member Turkey an unqualified green light to invade Syria, which was by no means in America’s national interest. And then, after congressional Republicans squawked in predictable fury, Trump’s sensitivity to criticism came out. He succumbed to the noise, deployed a more hawkish-sounding Mike Pence, and tried to save face by announcing a psychotic scheme with regard to Syria’s oil fields.

The result has been a policy of complete epilepsy. We seem to have effected the smallest possible troop withdrawal while causing the greatest possible regional chaos and eliciting the loudest possible backlash. The only consolation is that this is sure to energize the antiwar left. No blood for Syrian oil, am I right, guys? House Democrats, take it away:

Presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, could force a House vote next week that would require President Donald Trump to withdraw the roughly 1,000 remaining US troops from Syria. But there’s just one problem — the House’s No. 2 Democrat firmly opposes her effort.

“I intend to vote no,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told Al-Monitor today. “We haven’t whipped this, but I think our members think an immediate withdrawal would not be appropriate.”

Hoyer’s opposition, coupled with a lack of buy-in from some progressive Democrats and anti-war groups, could significantly hamper Gabbard’s ability to pass the legislation.

Because of course.

So to recap, we have a withdrawal that isn’t a withdrawal. We have an ostensibly antiwar left that’s too busy ferreting out the Russian spies in its Peloton supply chains to actually accomplish anything useful. We have a shiny, rebranded, “pro-working class” right that refuses to heed the foreign policy wishes of its newest constituents. We have a president who looks less like a commander-in-chief than a Tom and Jerry character falling down an endless set of stairs. And we have a national debt of $23 trillion and counting. Gold stars all around.

about the author

Matt Purple is a senior editor at The American Conservative.

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