Is the US Leaving Syria Very Soon?
The US is going to leave Syria “like very soon” President Trump said last week, in a remark that evidently caught members of his own administration by surprise. Currently there are about 2,000 US troops in Syria, where their main job is to help local Kurdish and Arab fighters battle ISIS. With that fight largely winding down, Trump appears ready to pull the plug, provided his own generals don’t stop him.
Why now? One clue is that Trump made the remarks at a campaign rally in the rust-belt heartland of Ohio, where he won a lot of votes in 2016 by railing against costly overseas military operations. His decision to send more troops to Afghanistan last year rankled his base, but a well-timed Syria withdrawal could help ahead of midterm elections that will turn largely on views of Trump.
Still, whether Trump actually goes through with it remains to be seen. His top advisors argue that to leave would cede Syria entirely to Russia and Iran — though in reality the US role has always been too limited to seriously obstruct Russian and Iranian advances there. A more pressing question may be whether a US withdrawal would enable ISIS to rise again in Eastern Syria.
Those are the stakes. But at the moment it’s too soon to tell whether Trump’s remark was policy or politics. Too very soon.