As the U.S.-led coalition accelerates its campaign to destroy the Islamic State’s remaining strongholds in Syria, the Trump administration faces a big decision about the future: Does it want to keep some U.S. troops inside the country to help stabilize Syria after the jihadists are defeated, or does it want to pack up and come home?
The dilemma is eerily like what President Barack Obama faced in Iraq in 2011, and the risks and benefits are similar. President Trump, like his predecessor, has expressed skepticism about permanent U.S. wars in the Middle East. But he also knows that pulling out U.S. troops from bases east of the Euphrates could create a vacuum that might trigger ethnic slaughter, regional proxy wars and a new wave of jihadist violence.
The military and civilian officials who have been closest to U.S.-Syria policy appear convinced that America should maintain a residual presence, probably something under 1,000 Special Operations forces that could continue to train and advise — and also, restrain — the Syrian Kurdish militia that has been America’s key partner against the Islamic State. But this alliance with the Kurds is controversial, inside Syria and out.