After taking a bipartisan beating in Washington over his decision to withdraw American troops from Syria, Donald Trump defended himself on Twitter this morning by reminding people that he ran on a promise to get out two years ago. That’s true, and so is his argument that he’s been consistently opposed to being the “Policeman of the Middle East.” It’s when he gets to the supposed misery of Russia and Iran over his withdrawal that Trump runs into a big credibility problem:
So far, so good, at least for rational argument on this point. That has been a significant counterargument for boots-on-the-ground involvement since the first Gulf War, with warnings about quagmires and reminders about Vietnam an ever-present part of the debate. Our experience in Iraq since the 2003 re-start of the Gulf War certainly lends itself to those arguments, too. We withdrew in 2011 only to find ourselves in a position where we needed to re-enter, a fact that both sides of the argument can use. One side can say we never should have gotten involved in the first place — the “first place” being either 1990 or 2003 — and the other can say we never should have left after getting involved. (One can even hold both of those positions.)
This is where Trump runs off the rails, however:
Say what? Russia, Iran, and Syria want us out more than Trump does. Syria wants us out for the obvious reason that they want to control their own space. Iran wants its land bridge to the Mediterranean and stronger lines of communication to its Hezbollah proxies in the fight against Israel. Russia wants us out because they want to prop up Bashar al-Assad as their puppet in order to increase its leverage in the Middle East and compete with American influence in the region. Withdrawing US forces from Syria make all of those goals much less complicated.
By the way, here’s Vladimir Putin crying in his borscht over the withdrawal:
Russian President Vladimir Putin praised President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, describing the American presence there as illegitimate and the Islamic State as largely defeated on the ground.
Putin told journalists at his annual year-end news conference that the Islamic State has suffered “serious blows” in Syria.
“On this, Donald is right. I agree with him,” Putin said.
What. A. Shock. A withdrawal will complete a retreat in the region that began with Barack Obama’s infamous “red line” fumble and his decision to let Putin deal with Assad’s chemical weapons. If Trump wanted a withdrawal, it should have come with concessions from Russia and Iran, especially the latter.
Note too that even Putin’s not arguing that ISIS has been completely defeated. The Kurds, who like Iraq’s Sunni tribal leaders relied on American promises to stick around, warn that the US pullout will once again create a vacuum for the extremists to fill:
The U.S. decision to withdraw from Syria will allow Islamic State to regroup at a critical stage in the conflict, Washington’s Kurdish partners said on Thursday, after Western allies expressed alarm at the sudden move.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of all U.S. troops would also leave Syrians stuck between “the claws of hostile parties” fighting for territory in the seven-year-old war.
The SDF, supported by roughly 2,000 U.S. troops, are in the final stages of a campaign to recapture areas seized by Islamic State militants.
But they face the threat of a military incursion by Turkey, which considers the Kurdish YPG fighters who spearhead the force to be a terrorist group, and possible advances by Syrian forces – backed by Russia and Iran – committed to restoring President Bashar al-Assad’s control over the whole country.
Russia and Iran won’t be sorry to see the US go. They’ll be delighted to control that space — and they have no plans to withdraw from it ever.
Trump retweeted his short “mission accomplished” video message from yesterday afternoon. It’s a better argument than the one he made this morning, even if it’s not terribly convincing.
Update: Mon Dieu …
France will keep troops in northern Syria for now because Islamic State militants have not been wiped out – contrary to the view of Washington – and continue to pose a threat to French interests, officials said. …
“It shows that we can have different priorities and that we must count on ourselves first,” Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau told C-News television. “For now, of course we are staying in Syria because the fight against Islamic State is essential.”
France is especially sensitive to the Islamic State threat after several major deadly attacks on its soil in recent years. Hundreds of French nationals have joined the group in Syria.
Defence Minister Florence Parly acknowledged on Twitter that the militant group had been weakened and lost some 90 percent of its territory, but said the battle was not over.
“Islamic State has not been wiped from the map nor have its roots. The last pockets of this terrorist organization must be defeated militarily once and for all,” she said.