President Trump is taking fire from all sides on his decision to withdraw remaining U.S. forces from Syria, and there are claims that this is somehow an unconscionable abandonment of our Kurdish allies.
While these may be appealing sound bites, they fail to reflect the reality of the situation in Syria — which Mr. Trump totally gets. Certainly, Kurdish fighters have done enormous service in the fight against ISIS in Northern Syria, but their plight is not going to be resolved by leaving a very small number of U.S. troops in the area where they are an insignificant match for some 15,000 Turkish forces.
Whether or not we like Bashar Assad, or the fact he has slaughtered many thousands of his own people in eight years of civil war, that war is largely over and he has won. The border area where the Kurds are living is in fact Syria — and the Kurds will ultimately need to come to an agreement with Mr. Assad over living there in relative autonomy and safety.
With some Russian assistance, such a deal had been in the works for some time, and over the long term it is the best solution for both the Kurds and Syria.
During both the Obama and Trump administrations, the United States has avoided becoming directly involved in the wars in Syria which was a civil conflict and did not involve the real strategic interests of the United States. Our involvement has been largely limited to bombing in support of operations against ISIS, some special operations with the Kurds and a missile attack in response to Mr. Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
A large-scale U.S. presence was never envisioned, and supporting the anti-Assad groups — largely Islamic terrorist organizations — was never a good idea.
As Mr. Trump has correctly stated, the ISIS caliphate has been destroyed, and it is important to note that apart from U.S. operations, this destruction has been a result of major operations by the Kurds, the Russians and Mr. Assad’s own Syrian army.
In the process, Raqqa has been reduced to rubble while most ISIS fighters have been killed or captured. Concerns about ISIS re-emergence are real, but they are a bigger threat to the Syrians than anybody else, and it is likely they will also be slaughtered by Mr. Assad. The Kurds and the Russians will no doubt be ready to assist in this task and are not concerned about the body count.
It is also the case that over the past year Mr. Trump has received repeated assurances from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he would not cross into Syria and attack the Kurds, that he has long viewed as terrorists who oppose his regime.
Reducing the number of U.S. troops there, where they would only serve as a “tripwire” and stand to get killed in any serious conflict, was the prudent thing to do. Characterizing this as an “abandonment of the Kurds” is unfortunate, but leaving U.S. troops there would not change the military reality.
Even some of Mr. Trump’s best supporters, like Sen. Lindsey Graham, are making statements that simply make no sense. Speaking on Fox, Mr. Graham suggested “taking over the oilfields.” Exactly how would this work? The U.S. military now invades Syria, a country we are not at war with, and seizes the oil fields? What happens then? We turn them over to Exxon? Maybe we hire Hunter Biden and Burisma to figure it out for us.
The current cease-fire negotiated by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at least offers a window of opportunity to work out a solution that works for the Kurds and their Syrian hosts — as well as Turkey who will need to eventually withdraw from Syria. Nothing in this move will resolve their decades-old conflict with the Kurds.
Don’t forget: It’s the Middle East where “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” In fact, it’s most probably where this famous proverb originated and where we see it in literal application every day. And it’s where the Turks have been fighting — for many years and on their border with Iraq — the Kurds, in the form of the PKK terrorist group, and with the long-term assistance from the United States.
Despite this history, our ignorant media, best described as “27-year-old know nothings” who work in an “echo chamber” — and this description by Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser, brother of the then-president of CBS News — doesn’t seem capable of putting any historical perspective on the recent events in Syria and Iraq.
Likewise, the move by Turkey into Syria to establish a “buffer zone” — the same concept Turkey used and we supported for many years in Northern Iraq — has been politicized without historical context by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats and other “anti-Trumpers,” including some of those Republicans who opposed him in 2016 for his criticism of the 2003 Iraq War.
However, and as will likely be demonstrated over the next few months, Mr. Trump’s move of our forces out of the “buffer zone” will prove to be a game changer in the Middle East — especially concerning Mr. Assad’s regime in Syria, that very possibly will not survive the new political divisions.
• Daniel Gallington and Abraham Wagner served for many years in senior national security positions.
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