At this stage, the Pentagon estimates that ISIS has lost 98 percent of the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria. Chasing every Sunni jihadist down a desert rabbit hole misses the larger and more threatening trend that the Pentagon already identified in January in its own National Defense Strategy, namely, that “inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.” In other words, the decade-long U.S. focus on counterterrorism strategies enabled and empowered dangerous adversarial states such as Iran and Russia at the expense of America’s position in the world. It’s a stark realization that should mandate an immediate shift in strategy, and the DOD knows as much: They didn’t bury the line in question in an obscure passage of the report; they stuck it on page one.
That is why a premature withdrawal from Syria would likely match the disastrous and hasty American exit from Iraq and be far worse than President Obama’s efforts to “lead from behind” in Libya. In fact, it would double down on Obama’s worst mistakes, which set the table for the Islamic State’s rise and enriched and enabled Iran while allowing Russia to transform itself into the region’s chief powerbroker.