Amid the celebrations when President Trump moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem last year was the cryptic warning that Israel will “pay a higher price” in peace talks with the Palestinians for Trump having taken Jerusalem “off the table.” Trump has not yet delivered on the peace plan. Yet it appears that part of the president’s bill has arrived in Jerusalem, in the form of Trump’s sudden decision to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria “as quickly as possible.”
The move was opposed by the president’s own military and intelligence services and was roundly condemned by usually quiescent Republicans in Congress. It led to the resignation of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and of the State Department’s Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
The United States sent troops to Syria in 2015 to fight the Islamic State group, guiding airstrikes and training the predominantly Kurdish fighters who make up the Syrian Democratic Forces. Troops were also there to search for senior ISIS leaders in Syria. U.S. forces control the northeast third of Syria, forming a military buffer and serving as a reminder of U.S. might and investment in the region.
While the Islamic State’s caliphate is gone, the group is not dead. Nevertheless, Trump declared victory over ISIS, via Twitter, and decided to withdraw. That will leave a power vacuum and a price to be paid by U.S. allies.
Some news outlets are calling the decision a bonus for Iran, whose chief regional enemy is “The Little Satan” — Israel — which it repeatedly vows to destroy. Ongoing U.S. support is part of Israel’s security shield, and the American exit from Syria could open the possibility of increased Iranian movement into Syria. This would fulfill an Iranian goal to have a land bridge from Tehran to Beirut to more easily support Iran’s proxy Hezbollah, which is poised to attack on Israel’s northern border.
Another U.S. ally, the Kurds, are surrounded on all sides by enemies. They are threatened by Turkey, which sees its own Kurdish citizens as a Fifth Column and wants to pulverize the Syrian Kurds to prevent the creation of a Kurdish entity. To save themselves, the Kurds may have to throw in their lot with Bashar al-Assad, the genocidal leader of Syria who, with the help of Russia, has clawed himself to near victory in that country’s years-long civil war.
Sadly, with this move, the loyalty-obsessed Trump has thrown the loyal Kurds under the bus. And America’s allies in the region are taking note of our country’s decline in geopolitical influence and credibility.
The president has said that he likes winners. In this case, the winners are: Iran, Assad, Russia and the Islamic State. Count the United States and Israel among the losers. JN