All learned pundits of foreign relations are shocked; majority of international community members are stunned; close American allies are traumatized and they are scrambling for words to respond to President Donald Trump’s sudden decision to pull out US troops from Syria. They were not prepared for such unpredictability of the leader of the country which is respected by its friends and despised by foes for its economic, political and military muscles and interventionist capability on its own terms. But in one phone call, Trump crushed their hopes. Worse, the US President also hinted that he would withdraw US troops from Afghanistan.
Trump did all this by ignoring his advisors’ sane counsel. The resignation of Defence Secretary James Mattis, one of the ablest officials of the Trump administration and Brett McGurk, the special envoy for the counter-ISIS campaign, indicates it clearly. It is reported that Trump’s national-security team, including James Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey had counseled the President for maintaining the US deployment.
Even Israel, the US’ closest ally, had persuaded the US President from taking any haste move on troops’ withdrawal from the war-ridden West Asian country when months ago Trump had signaled for his preference for a prompt declaration of victory over ISIS and the return of the American troops from Syria. But Trump reversed the course, leaving Israel, Turkey and others to fight ISIS on their own. With this, the gains of the US-led anti-ISIS campaign in the last three years would suffer a huge damage, is what international watchers fear as they strongly feel that withdrawal of 2000 US troops from Syria would facilitate revival of ISIS.
For immediately, however, it will be Kurds who make up the Syrian Democratic Forces and have led the battle on the ground against ISIS and have liberated city after city in northeastern Syria, will feel betrayed by the US President’s impulsive move. They will be under attack, not from ISIS, but from Turkey which sees them as a security threat and has vowed to attack them in the near future. Kurds control Syria’s north and east parts which they took from ISIS. These Syrian areas are known for their agricultural worth and oil reserves. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as his regime’s backers—Russians and Iranians, want the Kurdish held territory to fall back under the control of Damascus.
Fearing that the US troops’ withdrawal will imperil their life, Syria’s Kurdish leadership has started talks with the Assad regime for reconciliation. Kurds seem to be confident that they would be able to secure protection from the attack from the Assad regime, but they are not sure about their safety from Turkey where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is considered as their sworn enemy. Turkey considers Kurdish fighters as terrorists and has threatened to launch an offensive against them once the US troops depart from Syria. This has resulted in making Syria a more challenging country in the West Asian region. Along with rise in instability, the country is likely to witness more blood-bath on its streets in days and months to come. Fallout of such developments will be felt across the world, both on security and economic fronts. But it appears, the US President is not concerned about it. Nor is he worried about the fact that the withdrawal of US troops would lead to strengthening of forces who are accused of human rights violations and the current state of situation in Syria. While Syrian President Assad must be happy with Trump’s pronouncement, Russia and Iran would be celebrating over the US President’s abrupt move. With regard to Iran, several experts are on the same page in their understanding that the US President’s decision on withdrawal from Syria will arouse Tehran’s appetite for more foreign adventurism as it seeks to advance its regional agenda. Iran feels that a strong Shia regime-led by Bashar al-Assad in Syria will help it checkmate its rival Saudi Arabia in the region and may thwart Israel in playing aggressively against the existing political establishment in Damascus.
With its territorial dispute with Damascus unresolved and lack of any evidence that could show that Syria has overcome bitterness of its past in its deal with Israel, Tel Aviv considers Assad a remorseless foe. Israel has repeatedly pounded Syria with bombs and killed Lebanese Hezbollah, Iranian forces as well as ISIS in the past two years. Tel Aviv has long held a suspicion that Iranians are arming Hezbollah who, in turn, use weapons in targeting Israeli interests. Throughout the Syrian conflict, Israel used military strikes to stop the flow of advanced weapons from Syrian and Iranian arsenals to the Hezbollah. At the time when the US has made it clear about its intentions in Syria, Israel has been left alone to deal with the Syrian regime and Iran.
On the other hand, Russia will find it an opportunity to consolidate its hold in the region. In 2015, when Moscow, pursuing its foreign policy aggressively intervened in Syria, Russia had done this not with a motive to merely protect the Assad regime from the US and European allies’ attack, but to reassert itself on the international arena and attempt to change the unipolar nature of the post-Cold War global system. Moscow used Iran a key tool towards achieving that end. Following the US declaration on Syria, Russia will try to position itself strategically to fortify its hold in Syria and other parts of West Asia and the Gulf.
However, some foreign experts don’t see the US’ announcement a simple move. Rather they feel that it would lead to turning things trickier in Syria with Turkey, Iran and Russia fighting against each other and making arrival of peace in Syria a distant dream. That means, the US President has, by his abrupt move, has pushed the region and the world into a deep gorge of muddle and disorder. Perhaps this is what Trump wanted to give as a new year gift to the international community. A sad development, indeed!
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