Jonathan Vaysman: Why pulling out of Syria is a massive mistake

Thursday, October 17, 2019 - 9:28am

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In early October, President Donald Trump announced his plan to call back troops from northern Syria. This was immediately followed by Turkey invading Syria. Trump claimed he was completing his campaign promise of bringing home our troops and that “great nations do not fight endless wars.” While his base will see this as him fulfilling a campaign promise — which he is — I view this as a colossal mistake. 

The Middle East is known as one of the most unstable regions in the world. It has been plagued by war and chaos for the entirety of the 21st century. By removing our troops from the area and allowing the Turkish forces to invade, the chaos in Syria would increase immensely. A nation that has been torn apart by an ongoing civil war cannot handle a Turkish invasion. David Ignatius, a Washington Post columnist tweeted that “a bad situation in Northeast Syria is about to get much worse...The US will do nothing.” While I am typically one to say that the United States should not have to be the world's policeman, in this case, I believe there is no choice. By leaving the region, we are leaving our Kurdish allies in Syria vulnerable to the Turkish forces. The Kurds were instrumental in helping us defeat and quell the presence of ISIS in Syria. They were the boots on the ground that helped us tackle one of the world's most dangerous terrorist organizations. Nikki Haley, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, said it best when she tweeted, “We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake.” If we allow our Kurdish allies to die, why would any of our other allies trust us to stand up for them? Trump is not only throwing Syria, specifically Syrian Kurds, into a war with Turkey, but he is also showing our allies around the world that we don’t care about them. It’s a very dangerous game to play. In a world as interconnected as ours has become, it is vital to make sure that we keep strong ties with our allies in the event of an emergency, or even worse, a war.

Even Republicans are lashing out at Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was critical of the president's decision, stating, “A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. … I urge the President to exercise American leadership to keep together our multinational coalition to defeat ISIS and prevent significant conflict between our NATO ally Turkey and our local Syrian counterterrorism partners.” It is unusual to see top Republicans, such as McConnell, criticize Trump. Despite the many issues I have with McConnell, he is completely right. In no way would pulling out of Syria benefit the U.S. It would only help Russia and other disruptors in the area, like Iran. Leaving Syria allows for hostile nations to influence the region and create more chaos. Russia knows that a war with the U.S. would end in catastrophic loss for both sides, but with the U.S. out of Syria, they will be able to assist the Turks in taking over the region and killing Kurdish allies. There is no reason for Russia to be fearful with the U.S. gone. 

I believe that Trump needs to reconsider his stance on pulling out of Syria. This could be far worse for his campaign than not bringing home the troops. The aftermath of what will happen in Syria will be a permanent stain, among many other things, on his foreign policy resume as president. Our allies will have less faith in us, and our word will mean nothing. The next time we make a promise to an ally they will take it with a grain of salt because of our actions in Syria. It will result in countless lives of allies lost and will throw the Middle East further into a downwards spiral.

Jonathan Vaysman can be reached at jvaysman@umich.edu.