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Long Story Short: US Withdrawal of Troops from Syria is Being Criticized. Is the Criticism Fair?
Was the US Right in Removing Troops from Syria?
(Note: companies that could be impacted by the content of this article are listed at the base of the story [desktop version]. This article uses third-party references to provide a bullish, bearish, and balanced point of view; sources are listed after the Balanced section.)
On October 6, 2019, President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw approximately 2,000 troops from northern Syria. The decision was met by criticism from both sides of the aisle, with the House of Representatives voting 354-60 to condemn the pullout. The president has since indicated that the US will keep about 200 troops in eastern Syria to protect oil interests and that the remaining troops will move to Iraq. Shortly after the president’s announcement, Turkey launched an attack against Kurdish forces, driving them away from the Syria-Turkey border. Was the president correct in removing troops from an “endless war” in which the country has little vital interests (Bull Case) or will withdrawing troops hurt US long-term interests in the region (Bear Case)?
The US Should Not Be Involved in Endless Wars. The nature of war has changed. Insurgents attack and then go into hiding. Removing the threat of future attacks is not as simple as winning a battle or war and then negotiating a truce. Some politicians such as Rand Paul believe maintaining troops in an area may hamper the enemy’s ability to act, but it does not remove the threat. The fight against this type of endless war must be won through persuasion, not military force. Removing troops is simply a reflection that military occupation is not the best way to address long-term conflicts.
The US Does Not Have Vital Interest in the Area. Syria is a significant producer of oil. However, most of the oil fields, pipelines, and refineries are in the middle of the country, not the northern border. Furthermore, the US’s reliance on the Middle East for oil has greatly diminished as the country becomes a net exporter of energy. The Politico contributors argue that US policy in Syria has been “unclear, confused and unrealistic” in describing the country’s interest in the area. They claim US support of the Kurds was headed for disaster and that withdrawing troops now only prevents the inevitable.
Leaving Syria Strengthens Our Relationship with Turkey, a Key Ally. Turkey is an important ally to the US given its location at the confluence of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Turkey has not only been an ally in combating ISIS insurgence but also the spread of communist influence in eastern Europe. Turkey has long viewed the Kurds as rebels and resents the inflow of Kurds and other Syrian refugees into Turkey. By allowing Turkey to push the Kurds back from the Syria-Turkey border, the US is strengthening its relationship with a key ally.
Abandoning Syria Could Lead to ISIS Gaining Strength. US troops in Syria have largely been successful in pushing ISIS insurgents into hiding. Removing troops will only mean allowing ISIS to gain the strength needed to resume terrorist attacks. In late August, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged that ISIS militants were gaining strength in some areas in response to decreased US activity, as first reported by The New York Times.
The US Has a Moral Obligation to Serve as the World’s Policemen. The US is in a unique position to promote human rights given its unmatched economic and political power, and it has a moral obligation to maintain stability in the region to help refugees displaced by conflict. Withdrawing troops will only lead to increased conflict. Already, signs exist that the Syrian government is sending troops toward northern Syria to counter the movement of Turkish troops.
Abandoning the Kurds Sends a Message that the US Can’t be Trusted. The Kurds have been one of the US’s best allies in combatting terrorists. Abandoning the Kurds sends a message to other allies that the US does not stand by their allies once the initial conflict has ended, which could erode support for the US’s role on the world stage.
Leaving Syria Creates a Vacuum that Will Be Filled by Others (Russia). Russia has a vested interest in Turkey and the Middle East. When the US cut back the sale of military equipment to Turkey in 2017, Russia stepped in. Only days after the withdrawal of US troops, Russian President Vladimir Putin had met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Jessica Campisi of The Hill reports that Russian troops have entered northern Syria.
The Middle East has been, and will continue to be, a complex area with conflicting interests for the US. It is unclear what our country’s interest are regarding the region and even more unclear what impact stationing troops will have on the area’s long-term stability. It would be easy to downplay the Middle East as not important to the US under some claim of Monroe Doctrinism. But in this day of technologically enhanced globalism, claims of spherical territorialism seem outdated. Whether the US’s long-term interests in Syria are merited can continue to be debated. However, it is increasingly clear that near-term sudden changes in political policy are having dramatic and real consequences.
https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2019/10/16/donald-trump-right-leave-syria-rand-paul-editorials-debates/4003497002/, Rand Paul, USA Today, October 16, 2019
http://worldwatchtoday.org/archives/2702, Steven LeBlanc, World Watch Today, 2019
https://thehill.com/policy/international/middle-east-north-africa/465802-russian-troops-patrolling-between-turkish-and, Jessica Campisi, The Hill, October 15, 2019
https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/pompeo-isis-1.5253816, Thomson Reuters, August 20, 2019
https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/10/18/trump-syria-turkey-kurds-news-analysis-229858, Aaron David Miller, Eugene Rumer and Richard Sokolsky, The Politico, October 18, 2019.