By Dominick Mellusi, George Mason University
On October 7th President Donald Trump announced via tweet “The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so…it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home.” In response, Republicans and Democrats expressed regret about abandoning the Kurdish forces in Syria. Republican Lindsey Graham called Trump’s decision “devastating for the good guys.” The House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning Trump’s withdrawal 354-60, with every Democrat voting against the president and 129 Republicans showing bipartisan support.
Their fears seemed fully realized when Turkey launched an invasion of the Syrian Kurdish region. However, this policy of “Syrian withdrawal” has been misrepresented. Trump is not ending these “Endless Wars,” and abandoning the Kurds is just one controversial move to come out of this conflict for the United States. In fact we do need to leave Syria – but that’s not what Trump is doing.
The “withdrawal” is actually a reshuffling. 1,000 troops were originally stationed in the country, but 900 will be stationed there now for the purpose of keeping oil fields from enemy control (previously these fields were a major source of funds for ISIS). The troops will not be in northern Syria, where the Kurds are, but they will still be in the nation. In fact, Lindsey Graham has changed his mind on Trump’s policy in Syria, praising him for his strategic thinking.
Looking at American military presence in the Middle East, it’s evident that Trump is not trying to “bring our soldiers home.” The Trump Administration has ordered the shipment of fighter jets, arms, and 2,800 additional troops to the aid of Saudi Arabia, now threatened by Iran. The results of Trump’s recent actions have been the loss of our alliance with the Kurds, the Kurds allying with Assad, and a net increase of troops in the Middle East, redeployed to where they are needed most.
Nor is this the only controversy to come out of this conflict. Rebel forces armed and supported by the United States have committed atrocities. One example was Nour al-din al-Zenki, armed from 2013-2015 under Operation Timber Sycamore, who later posted a video of themselves killing a young boy. On a variety of occasions CIA arms have fallen into the hands of groups within the Al-Qaeda network. U.S.-backed rebels and the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, had a common enemy in Assad so they often had the same aims, allowing Al Nusra to increase their numbers and take more ground.
Michael Mulroy, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, has stated, “Idlib (a city in northwestern Syria) is essentially the largest collection of Al-Qaeda affiliates in the world right now.” Their presence provided Vladimir Putin with a justification to enter the Syrian conflict, turning it into a proxy war. Al Nusra has since formed a larger network of Jihadist rebels called Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), but the State Department still considers them part of the Al-Qaeda network.
When the Obama Administration entered Syria, the goal was to leave within 30 days. We have been there for 5 years. We need to recognize that the United States government has not made things better in Syria, due to the simple fact that there are no good options. It is true that ISIS has been devastated, but our presence has escalated tensions with Russia and Iran, strengthened the Al-Qaeda network, and negatively affected the Kurdish population. The Trump Administration needs to follow through on their promises. If the president says he is going to end the wars then he needs to do just that.
Dominick Mellusi has a B.A. in history from Florida Gulf Coast University.