United States withdraws from Syria

BY DANIEL SAENZ

Ever since the Arab Spring of 2011, in which citizens across various countries in the Middle-East and North Africa overthrew dictators in an attempt to bring about a more transparent and democratic culture in the region, more countries are following suit. The Arab Spring movement overthrew the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya respectively. Much like Libya, Syria has erupted into a full-on civil war. However,  unlike Libya, the leader was never successfully overthrown as the conflict has shown no end in sight, displacing millions and creating the refugee crisis that plagues neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey as well as European nations such as Greece, Germany, and France.

To make matters worse, the conflict morphed into a proxy war between Russia and the United States with the Obama administration not officially becoming involved. This was despite calls from leaders like John McCain and Hillary Clinton to implement a no-fly zone in Syria after Bashar Al Assad used sarin gas on rebel territories in Damascus. However, the United States began to take a rather haphazard role in the conflict. While not officially being involved, the U.S. opted for covert operations, often arming rebel organizations that would help to overthrow the Assad government. But this plan became messy due to factionalism and extremist ideologies.

In an article for the LA Times, W.J. Hennigan, Brian Bennett and Nabih Bulos reported of the Syrian conflict, “The fighting has intensified over the last two months, as CIA-armed units and Pentagon-armed ones have repeatedly shot at each other while maneuvering through contested territory on the northern outskirts of Aleppo, U.S. officials and rebel leaders have confirmed.”

Such a spectacle was just one of many examples of the United States not understanding the facts on the ground. What further complicated matters was that Turkey was heavily involved with the Islamist Free Syrian Army.

Despite initially being formed to combat Assad, Turkey was more preoccupied with attacking areas under the control of the Kurdish YPG and Syrian Democratic Forces. This, coupled with the interests of Russia and Iran at play in their support of the Assad government, made it nearly impossible for a ceasefire of any kind to be reached. The Trump administration would deviate from the status quo on two occasions.

In April of 2017 and 2018, the United States, with the aid of France and Great Britain, bombed the airbases and suspected chemical weapons facilities of the Assad government in Syria. A confrontational move against Iran, Syria, and Russia, coupled with the gains being made by the SDF and YPG against jihadist organizations appeared to mark the coming of an end to the carnage.

However, it would appear that such jubilee was premature. Via Twitter, Trump announced that the United States would be withdrawing from Syria as ISIS had supposedly been defeated. According to a report by the New York Times, Vladimir Putin was ecstatic about the decision saying, “With regards to the victory over ISIL, on the whole, I agree with the president of the United States.”

While anti-war crusaders such as Rand Paul celebrated the decision as an effort to put an end to the war that the United States should not have been involved in, Marco Rubio was completely against the decision. In an interview with PBS, he stated, “I’m deeply concerned that we’re about to undertake a series of foreign policy decisions that are going to undermine our security, that are going to undermine our alliances and that are going to embolden our adversaries.”

There is truth to this statement. First off, despite the fact that the coalition took control of the majority of East Syria where ISIS resides, the territory has not been completely captured. Furthermore, the Kurds have been at the forefront of fighting ISIS. Nonetheless, as showcased in the Turkish invasion of Afrin back in January 2018, Turkey has no interest in fighting jihadists but is instead preoccupied with killing the main people that have been making gains against the jihadists. In essence, such a move would be throwing the Kurds to the wolves. This will also give ISIS time to regroup.

Of course, this will provide Syria, Iran, and Russia with an incentive to continue the war. When and if the war ends, this axis, along with Turkey, will be able to construct the new order in a way that it sees fit. This will mark the sharp decline of the United States’ influence in the region and will exacerbate the growing threat of Iran and Russia to U.S. national interest. If the United States wants to maintain its status as the global leader, it must heavily reconsider its decision to withdraw.

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