The US-Syria Impasse

Komal Tiwary is a fourth-year law student at NUSRL Ranchi. She specializes in International Law.

President Trump wants the American troops to withdraw from Syria. What will happen to America’s regional allies if the troops withdraw? Will ISIS resurrect from its last remaining pockets? Will the war in Syria end if America withdraws? What about the million Syrian refugees? Indeed Syria has become a victim of brutal ambitions

President Trump has been unabashedly vocal with his skepticism about the American military intervention abroad. Late in December 2018, the White House released a video in which President Trump puts forth his intentions to bring back young American men and women from the warzones abroad, specifically from Syria. He claims that American troops have vanquished ISIS from Syria and that American military has served its purpose there. A rather surprised Homeland Security however advised President Trump to make a gradual exit from Syria as they believe that an abrupt exit is neither practical nor strategic.

An abrupt withdrawal of American forces opens doors for major turmoil as various groups rush in to fill the political and security vacuum, giving leverage to Russia, Iran and President Bashar Al Assad’s government. The Islamic groups, currently fighting to hang on to its last pockets in Syria, will be strengthened by the absence of US troops. The withdrawal will mean leaving Syria open to the geopolitical ambitions of Russia and Iran. For the Syrian government this announcement comes across as music to their ears.

The announcement of a pullout is widely seen as an abandonment of a loyal ally the Kurds and leaving them in the face of a hostile Turkey who vows to erode the clan. Even though America’s partnership with the Kurds against the Islamic State in Syria was always a temporary marriage of convenience, this sudden withdrawal will tarnish the reliability of the United States. A hasty retreat would weaken America’s global leadership role as believed by many foreign policy and military elites. The announcement of the withdrawal from Syria has met with consternation in Washington, among allies and within Trump’s own Cabinet. James Mattis, Defense Secretary and Brett McGrukk, the special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat ISIS, both resigned as a sign of protest.

At the end of the day, critics of a US withdrawal have no real solution to offer. If Trump were to agree to leave US forces in place for another six months, and then another, US voters would ask why he broke his campaign promise. Let alone the campaign agenda, US cannot be meaning to intervene in the conflict-ridden areas indefinitely and exhausting the nation’s money and the lives of young soldiers. We see however that early this January, during a visit to Jerusalem, John Bolton, America’s National Security Advisor, announced that American forces shall remain in Syria until ISIS has been completely defeated and further added that Turkey should provide guarantees that it will not attack Syrian Kurdish fighters that have fought alongside the Americans. This flip flop of intentions has created doubts in the minds of American allies in the region.

The ideal situation in Syria would have been a ceasefire between the government and the Rebels forces, free elections for a new government and the construction of a united front against ISIS. However, with Russia and Iran routing for the Assad regime and the regional and ethnic conflicts between Syria and the neighboring states, Syrians have been thrown into a whirlwind of atrocities with no signs of the war ending even if the US withdraws.

US under the Obama government was cautious in getting involved in the Syrian Civil War via military intervention because of the not so successful military adventures in Afghanistan and Libya in the past. However, with the chemical attack on innocent civilians by the Assad regime and Russia ending up backing Assad in 2015, the Obama administration found itself getting deeply involved in the war. Since then the US has a strong military presence in Syria, forming allies with the Rebel groups.

US has predominantly waged a war against ISIS in Syria and both the Obama administration as well as Trump administration has been successful in decapitating the ISIS Caliphate and pushing the Jihadist group to its last remaining pockets in Syria .US has been fighting alongside the Kurds to battle ISIS out of existence however has remained unsuccessful in putting an end to tyranny of the Assad regime and an to end the atrocious humanitarian crisis in Syria. Washington’s strategy under the Obama as well as Trump administration has been to “impose costs” on the government in Damascus by diplomatic ostracism and economic sanctions. This punitive approach is morally satisfying and politically expedient, but as a practical approach it just helps perpetuate the conflict and sustain Assad’s dependency on Iran, who is strengthening the government by providing weapons and fighters to curb the Rebel groups.

The forgotten plight of Syrian Refugees:

Amidst all this, there are 6 million Syrian refugees currently displaced across Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, fleeing the brutal war in their home land. The neighboring countries have hosted the Syrian refugee for seven long years and are growing impatient. The European states have also not been too eager to absorb the refugees. It seems as if the world does not want the Syrian refugees. This is one of the gravest humanitarian crisis the world has seen in the modern times and no real solutions are being projected to resolve it. Syria continues to be a whirl pool of brutal ambitions with no sign of peace anytime soon.

 If the US pulls out at this moment, Assad’s regime will retain all its power which in turn will lead Iran to maintain its regional dominance. With US out of the picture, Assad, backed by Iran and Russia will curb the Rebel groups, reestablishing its authoritarian government over Syria. US pulling out at this juncture will throw its regional allies into deep trouble as well as tarnish US’s image as a global reliable leader. US not pulling out will keep the war alive indefinitely with no signs of peace in Syria and the lives of millions of Syrian refugees in a jeopardy, not to forget the looming threat of ISIS resurging from its remnants in the absence of US forces. The decision of president Trump pulling out is seen as a “right decision but at a wrong time”. As of now the American troops will remain in Syria until a strategic exit plan is chalked out by the US.

 

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