Trump’s Syrian Withdrawal is Undermining Our Allies

Trump’s Syrian Withdrawal is Undermining Our Allies

Trump’s Syrian Withdrawal is Undermining Our Allies

Donald Trump has again managed to stump political observers, pundits, and most of the world by announcing the US forces imminent withdrawal from Syria. Out on the limb hang our Kurdish allies who are putting everything on the line to fight against ISIS. Trump’s statement on the Syrian withdrawal undermines our allies, and prematurely reduces our dwindling regional influence. 

Clarity in the Chaos

The Syrian Civil-War intertwined with the hunt for ISIS, mixed with NATO allies who label our allies as terrorists, tossed with two world powers is a bowl of confusion. Add in a POTUS who may have a foreign policy, but not one he follows, and heads start spinning. The heads belong to our frustrated and annoyed allies. The nations can pull back their forces and easily regroup within their borders.  The ally bearing much of the weight is smaller, tribal, and has no national borders. The Kurds inhabit parts of Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. The region overlaps the borders of three countries. None of those countries is especially friendly to the Kurds, but tolerates them.

The Middle East, is not a welcoming region to the USA. Our influence is weak, and often repetitive actions render the same ineffective results. The inroads to nudge and influence the future of the region are closing. An alliance with the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) provided an avenue to shift the direction of course in the region. Trump’s Syrian withdrawal announcement may have closed that road.

Allies With a Blood Lust for ISIS

Our allies on the ground include the Kurds. A group whose tribal area overlaps into Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. The withdrawal of Iraqi forces from their Syrian border regions left Kurdish Peshmerga forces to hold off Syrian based ISIS fighters. ISIS gained territory in Iraq, resulting in the Kurdish Yazidis genocide. Survivors raped, sold as slaves, executed, or left to starve on a mountaintop. Thousands remain enslaved or missing.

The brief recap of the Kurds is to highlight where today’s announcement leaves them in this power play. They formed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and helped by US-led airpower, are driving ISIS out of Syrian territory. They have borne the brunt of this war on terror “over there, so we don’t fight it back here.”

Walk through cemeteries in Kobani and Qamishil and see the white marble rows remembering daughters and sons killed battling ISIS. These are the young people who have sacrificed all to free territory from ISIS control.  And these are the people who still today are fighting ISIS and seeking to bring real stability for the women and men who survived the horror of ISIS. These forces risk their lives every day in the ISIS fight. And their work has allowed visitors to drive across the region for hours without getting shaken down or ripped off, or far worse, because of the security they have brought to the ground. This is the tempered victory against ISIS that will be jeopardized if U.S. troops leave the region.

~Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Defense One December 19, 2018

A Bad Deal for SDF

Here we are again, in a situation where the Kurds are fighting against ISIS, and their US support is leaving them behind. By his unilateral announcement today, Trump accomplished the feat of screwing our allies after pulling out.

The military asymmetry between the SDF and the Assad regime means that as the Syrian civil war moves into its final phase, the Kurds [SDF] are now at the mercy of the United States. The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has pegged its Syria policy to its broader conflict with Iran and views the Iranian-Syrian alliance as a long-term threat to U.S. interests in the Middle East. To combat this threat, the administration has indicated that it intends to stay in Syria until the Iranian issue is dealt with. Yet this official position is oddly divergent from that occasionally expressed by Trump himself, who has consistently called for the rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. Uncertainty over Washington’s commitment to the SDF will undoubtedly hasten negotiations with the regime and could undercut Kurdish leverage.

The US support gave the SDF leverage to negotiate its position in post civil war Syria. The diminished position puts the SDF where they must scramble to make a deal with Syria.

Making a deal will be hard. The SDF wants to preserve its hard-fought autonomy in the Kurdish regions of eastern Syria, while the [al-Assad] regime will be looking to reassert centralized control over the entire country. And as a nonstate actor dependent on a finite U.S. security guarantee, the SDF cannot risk a direct military confrontation with the regime or its two allies, Russia and Iran. Instead, it will have to use what leverage it has, while it has it, in order to reach a negotiated settlement.

With a tweet, the future of the world may have just shifted. Certainly the world as it applies to the Kurds.

The Art of War is More Useful Than You Think

The US, SDF, and al-Assad have a shared enemy in ISIS. The name may change, but ISIS purpose remains the same. Destabilize a region, and rebuild the caliphate to infect the world with the most warped and barbaric form of Islam. Mr. President, there is no eradication of ISIS, but a mere rebranding of the same system. Al-Assad understands this. The Kurdish SDF members paid a very high price for this lesson. As Sun-Tzu said, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” This was a golden opportunity to engage Syria, and potentially put some daylight between them and Iran. The Iran that you so often mention as being the focus of your Middle East policy.

Raqqa’s [former ISIS Stronghold in Syria] stability exists because of that partnership [US and SDF], but it remains extremely fragile. ISIS sleeper cells are trying to find footholds, take advantage of Raqqa’s shortage of services, and make it harder for the U.S.-backed coalition stop their reemergence. If Raqqa is not to become Baghdad in its worst moments, the pressure must be continued. If those U.S.-backed forces are forced to go it alone, there will be four winners: ISIS, the Syrian regime, Russia and Iran.

~Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Defense One December 19, 2018

Our allies are risking their lives, regional experts disagree on the eradication of ISIS, and exiting the conflict reduces our regional influence. With US forces on the ground to provide support in the search for ISIS, we had a presence in a region that is happy to shut us out. Turkey is an often reluctant partner for basing US forces. Often necessitating the full brunt of NATO to obtain restrictive and specific cooperation. But we had a presence there for this operation.

The Elephant in the Room isn’t from the GOP

A seemingly rash comment has set in motion a potential for serious consequences. Turkey is potentially looking to expand its southern border in SDF held Syria. ISIS prisoners held by SDF may be released into Syria, because their home countries don’t want them back. The SDF pulling back to self protect mode, and vacating the front line fight against ISIS. This is the legacy of rash words Mr. President. Please, refocus tweets about Rosie O’Donnell and allow the adults in the room to pick up this mess?

Thousands of foreign fighters, among them some the most radical members of ISIS, are held in SDF prisons. Their home countries, fearing that they cannot successfully prosecute them, are unwilling to take them back. Such a mass release could revive the ISIS insurgency, which had been on its last legs. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) also reported the SDF is considering withdrawal from its frontline positions against ISIS and redeploying to northern and western areas to hold off a feared Turkish intervention. Turkey had been dissuaded from launching an operation east of the Euphrates by the US military presence in Manbij and northeast Syria. The US withdrawal changes the arithmetic on the ground. An SDF withdrawal from the front with ISIS, which holds a shrinking pocket of territory, could allow the jihadists to regroup.

~Rudaw December 20, 2018


~ Featured Image Credit: Dianne Kett License under ~ CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication

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"CC" to her friends. Recent escapee from Northern VA to the Great State of Texas. I'm a Pro-LIfe, Pro-Gun, Libertarian type... There is very little that fresh lime juice and good tequila can't fix.

  • GWB says:

    The ally […]. The Kurds
    Sadly, we haven’t ever really treated them like an ally – more like a resource to be used.
    IMO, a novel approach would be to not push for Kurdish independence (not that our gov’t has ever really backed that), but ensure all of our regional basing was within those areas – in all three (maybe even four) countries. Build airbases and army encampments all within the limits of unofficial “Kurdistan”.

    This was a golden opportunity to engage Syria, and potentially put some daylight between them and Iran.
    Sorry, but the only way this is happening is to decapitate Syria. Or decapitate Iran.

    Turkey is an often reluctant partner for basing US forces.
    Yeah, under Erdogan, we need to dump Turkey altogether. They are NOT an ally, nowadays.

    Thousands of foreign fighters, among them some the most radical members of ISIS, are held in SDF prisons.
    So, hold appropriate trials and execute the appropriate ones. Do hostage swaps with the rest, as necessary. The number of people who are shackled by “feed the alligators closest to the canoe” thinking are immense.

    I’m all in favor of getting out – I’m in favor of getting out of a LOT of places around the world. And I’m all in favor of not screwing people who have tried hard to be our friends and allies. That doesn’t include Turkey. Honestly, it barely includes Iraq. But it does include the Kurds.

    BTW, this is exactly why Washington warned against foreign entanglements.

    I’d be curious what Mattiss’ thoughts on this whole shebang are.

    • It will be an ongoing issue. Washington DC has a terrible history of supporting our smaller allies. Frankly, it’s shameful. I say we grant them immediate immigration hearings and offer them asylum. We can guarantee that their lives are certainly in danger due to the political climate. Furthermore, they have some bad ass combatants who would greatly benefit our military.

      Iran & Syria…. I know what you mean. But I’m also old enough to remember when women in Iran wore bikinis, and they were a model of democracy (for their region). The Shaw was a bad leader, but I lay odds that if there was an option to swap out a cleric, they’d take him back. We don’t need enough space between them for a machete, just a match or two.

      Ahh, my boyfriend General Mattis… pretty sure he sat back in his chair with a grimace on his face. He’s smart, and insightful. He’s a Marine. I lay odds that behind the bottle of good whisky in his desk drawer, and Chuck Norris’ lady briefs, there’s a big binder with plan B-Z. He doesn’t’ strike me as an individual who is unprepared. Helpful in this administration.

  • Nicki says:

    “So, hold appropriate trials and execute the appropriate ones. Do hostage swaps with the rest, as necessary. The number of people who are shackled by “feed the alligators closest to the canoe” thinking are immense.”

    Sorry, but it’s not that easy. The SDF is a nonstate entity, and ergo, a number of countries are prohibited by law to deal with them. The SDF can’t try them. Their nations of origin don’t want them, even though they’re citizens. And we don’t have grounds to prosecute the vast majority of them. We can send some to GITMO – like the remaining two Beatles, for instance – but overall, there are massive legal issues involved with these guys. So I get this feeling that the SDF will just let them go, and they will do what they do. again.

    • Yup. If we take them (though shaky ground for sure) then we have to either prove they are enemy combatants and send them to Gitmo. Or try them according to the Genevia conventions. We can’t try them base on breaking the laws in America, because none of this took place in America. Maybe against, but really Europe has more ground there. No way would that work.

    • GWB says:

      The SDF can try them if it wants to. If it’s more concerned with what the UN thinks of them, then they’re doomed.

      And we don’t have grounds to prosecute the vast majority of them.
      Irrelevant. If we have evidence they’ve committed war crimes, then we can try them. Again, the international conventions on it do NOT actually tie our hands nearly as much as our leftist/globalist politicians like to claim. And we’re not even party to a bunch of the addendums (thereby having even more freedom).

      And, if there’s no evidence they’ve committed war crimes, and are merely prisoners of war, then you repatriate them to their home countries, REGARDLESS of those countries’ sentiments. “They’re your citizens, you will take them.”

      As to (*points to Narcissi*) the idea that we try them under the GC, fine. But we don’t HAVE to. A lot of what we prosecuted the NAZIs for were not treaty obligations at the time.

      The only reason we can’t do this is because of political fear that someone, somewhere in the world won’t like us anymore. I thought we, as conservatives, were past that.

      Oh, and don’t use the hoary old chestnut of “well, then they will start treating our citizens badly.” Because, they already do that.

      • Nicki says:

        Sorry, GWB, but you’re wrong on that one. The SDF is not a state entity. They’re not even a formal military force. They cannot try foreign fighters in their custody. The most they can hope for is repatriation, and the nations they’re from refuse to take them. This has nothing to do with the UN. What are you going to do – dump these scumbags inside France’s borders without permission? That’s not how any of this works.

        This isn’t political fear. There are international laws governing the disposition of the foreign fighters. And there are individual laws in many of these countries that preclude them from dealing with the SDF as a nonstate entity. They are sovereign nations, and you can’t force them to act the way you want them to. Period.

        • Scott says:

          I’m going to bet that the Kurds have a big fire or something similar at their prisons, and suddenly, there just aren’t any prisoners to return… with the whole “fighting for their lives” thing, they don’t seem to me to be the type to play by manufactured rules with those that would do the worst to them..

          • Nicki says:

            Well, there’s that option, or there’s the whole release them and let them do what they do, which I mentioned above.


            • Scott says:

              Certainly a possibility.. though hopefully not the one they choose… the idea that the French and English are trying to say what we should do, after their multiple cop-outs, and running away (especially the French) is rather amusing… basically they’re saying it’s just fine when they cut and run, but terribly wrong when we do it… regardless of how a person feels about the Presidents decision, that is hypocrisy at it’s best…

              • Nicki says:

                They can’t do anything else with those fuckers. They certainly don’t have the resources to keep them in custody, and we’re not giving them money to do so. We’ve been a prime force in negotiating transfers of these motherfuckers – both to their home countries and to third-party nations. Now, the SDF is like, meh, you left us, so we’re going to go defend our territory from the Turks. We don’t have the resources to keep these fucks, so have fun dealing with ISIS. We’re releasing them.

      • Nicki says:

        On another note, Gen. Mattis resigned.

        I’m in mourning.

  • GWB says:

    I’ll toss out one more bit of my blather on this.

    This is exactly why we should never get involved in military actions that don’t involve clear conditions of VICTORY. And a plan to bring everyone home.

    We’ve allowed entirely too many decades of playing proxy games and limited warfare. Warfare becomes much more prevalent and acceptable if it’s low-intensity. If you want to prevent war, not only prepare for it, but make sure your doctrine conveys to the world, “You do NOT want us involved, because we’re gonna open the biggest can of whoop-ass you’ve ever seen, lay your country waste, sow salt in your fields, then go home and leave you to cry in the dust of the wreckage of your home. Do NOT f* with us.”

    And we patently ignore everything that doesn’t meet those conditions. (And if our allies ask for help, then they should understand those same conditions apply – we’re not going to come around and help you police an insurgency.)

    No “strategic stop” or “strategic pause”. Not a rheostat, but an on/off switch labelled “Peace” and “You are SO f*ed”.

    If you abide by that concept, then you don’t have to worry about decades-long entanglement in crap like Syria or Afghanistan, or Vietnam. Or even Korea. (McArthur was an a*hole, but he was RIGHT about nuking the Yalu to keep the Chinese out.)
    That’s what a REAL “America First” strategy looks like.

    • NC says:

      One should never begin a war without an exit strategy. Do you build a house with just an “idea” of the end result? No. But we send our forces in to battle and often don’t have the victory clearly defined, nor the exit.

    • scott says:

      *slow clap*……

      Nothing follows

    • GWB says:

      Oh, and BTW, this is NOT an “isolationist” position.
      But, the progressives (and a few others who have been tainted by the progressivist indoctrination) will tell you that if we’re not out trying to turn the world into a progressive Disneyland where everything is rainbows and skittles-pooping unicorns, then we’re evil and not caring and all that other judgmental malarkey.
      The fact is, it is not our job. It takes too much energy just trying to tie the hands of our tyrants to waste time fighting someone else’s.
      (That’s aside from the practical issues mentioned above.)

  • Caroline Glick sees a bright side in this; and she’s quite hawkish when it comes to fighting Islamists:

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