President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Northern Syria is a brilliant strategic move that simultaneously achieves all of our major objectives in the region.
Perhaps because it has been so long since America had a coherent foreign policy strategy, the political establishment is aghast at the president’s action, predicting all manner of calamitous consequences. The same “experts,” however, have been responsible for the myriad foreign policy disasters that have befallen this country over the past two decades, so their discomfiture should be taken with a rather small grain of salt.
In one deft move that doesn’t put a single American life at risk, President Trump achieved a regional solution to ISIS, undermined Iran’s capacity for foreign aggression, and disentangled the United States from an alliance of convenience that threatened to create major diplomatic headaches down the road.
Contrary to claims that withdrawing American special forces from Northern Syria will enable ISIS to resurrect itself, for instance, the arrangement with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan merely shifts responsibility for the few remaining ISIS fighters onto Turkey.
The successful operation to take out ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi only makes it even less likely that the terrorist group will reemerge.
While the president deserves credit for implementing an aggressive military strategy that allowed U.S. and Kurdish forces to utterly destroy the Islamic caliphate, he also deserves credit for recognizing that the nature of the mission has now fundamentally changed. Rather than deploying American troops to the opposite side of the world to babysit the Kurds as they guard thousands of captured ISIS fighters—many of them European citizens whose home countries refuse to take responsibility for them—Turkey will now take over the role of guarding ISIS prisoners in its own backyard.
Although some “experts” predicted that Turkey’s action would lead to the sudden release of thousands of ISIS fighters currently in Kurdish custody, President Trump recently reported that the Kurds have ISIS firmly “under lock and key.” In fact, the Kurds already have begun rounding up the handful of ISIS prisoners who did manage to escape now that a comprehensive cease-fire agreement is in place. Just in case the Kurds falter in this mission, though, the president noted that Turkey is standing by to take over.
A Turkish military presence in the region will also represent a major blow to Iran’s ambitions, cutting the Islamic Republic off from Hezbollah, its proxy terrorist militia in Lebanon. Anything that disrupts the flow of money and arms to Hezbollah is undoubtedly a positive from a U.S. foreign policy perspective, and the fact that Turkey is a NATO ally only sweetens the deal.
Of course, many observers have also expressed concerns that we are effectively abandoning our Kurdish allies in their moment of need. While it’s entirely legitimate to consider the ramifications this withdrawal might have for America’s diplomatic credibility, President Trump made it abundantly clear that he would not tolerate any “unforced or unnecessary” aggression against the Kurds. The administration went so far as to implement economic sanctions against Turkey for crossing that line, but decided to withdraw the sanctions after Turkey agreed to a cease-fire.
Moreover, it’s important to keep in mind that our partnership with the Kurds has always been a marriage of convenience, more than anything. Although the Kurds have supported American efforts in Iraq and Syria in recent years, they’ve only done so because our military interventions in those countries have advanced the Kurds’ overarching goal of establishing an independent state.
The Marxist-dominated Kurdish militias certainly don’t have any ideological or cultural affinity for the United States, and pretending otherwise would have risked a repeat of our experience in Afghanistan—where we’ve spent 19 years waging war against a group that we had previously supported with arms and money when it was fighting the Soviet Union.
There are many U.S. foreign policy professionals who view the establishment of an independent Kurdish state as a useful counter to our adversaries in the region, but the risks of that approach far outweigh the potential benefits. The Kurdish homeland encompasses large swaths of territory in Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, in addition to Northern Syria. U.S. support for a Kurdish state in Syria undoubtedly would do serious damage to our alliance with Turkey, would likely trigger a secession movement in Iraq that would further destabilize its already weak government, and might even draw us into open military conflict with Iran.
Avoiding those outcomes is a worthwhile goal in and of itself, but President Trump’s decision to withdraw the relative handful of U.S. forces from Northern Syria will also have far-reaching benefits for American national security.
It’s been so long since America had a coherent foreign policy strategy that many of the experts seem to have forgotten what that even looks like. Donald Trump just drew them a picture.