By John Ubaldi–to view adbridged version go to In Homeland Security News—
In a stunning move, but keeping with a campaign promise made during the 2016 presidential campaign, President Trump decided to remove all U.S. combat forces from Syria.
This unexpected announcement by the president, “We have won against ISIS, we have beaten them, and we’ve beaten them badly,” Trump said in video posted to Twitter on Dec. 19. “We’ve taken back the land, and now it is time for our troops to come back home.”
Trump Blindsides His National Security Team
When the president made this decision, he sharply contradicted many of his senior military commanders and civilian advisors who warned that ISIS is still fighting in both Syria and Iraq. Many have estimated that there is upward to some 40,000 still left in both countries and with a strong presence in other countries from Africa to Asia.
The decision by the president is eerily similar to one made by President Obama who removed all U.S. combat forces from Iraq in 2010, this decision had disastrous consequences that allowed the Islamic State to establish itself and brought U.S. military forces back.
President Obama earlier dismissed ISIS as a “JV team,” then months later the Islamic State carved out a segment of Syria and Iraq defeating the U.S. trained Iraqi army in the process. Later Obama had to re-send U.S. military forces back to counter this terror threat.
Now is Trump repeating the failure of Obama where we abandoned key allies and the very strategic partners that had been cultivated only for them left to suffer at the hands of the Islamic State, the Syria government, and other groups?
Trumps sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria has ramifications far beyond this country, but undermines U.S. position in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other regions as many of our allies and strategic partners will lose trust in the United States. This brings back the pain for many of being abandoned by the U.S., history again is repeating itself!
Was Turkey the Real Reason to Withdraw U.S. Troops?
This begs the real question is this concession to gain the support of Turkey, and its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with some sort of appeasement policy between the two nations. Erdogan has strongly criticized U.S. efforts to arm and train Syrian Kurdish forces that have been fighting the Islamic State Group (ISG) in Syria; this same faction who are armed and trained by Washington also has links to The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), whom Ankara claims is a terror group operating inside Turkey.
Middle Eastern experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Jon B. Alterman and Will Todman reported that Erdogan threatened an imminent Turkish incursion into Kurdish-controlled areas in Syria, which would have put U.S. troops at risk. Turkey, a NATO ally, also had been flirting with the idea of buying an S-400 Russian missile defense system rather than the U.S.-built Patriot system. Following President Trump’s phone call with Turkey on Friday, Turkey agreed to buy the U.S. system for $3.5 billion. In addition, the White House confirmed that President Trump is considering extraditing the Turkish dissident religious leader Fethullah Gulen.
U.S. has always lacked a Middle East Strategy
The withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Syria belays a much bigger strategic failure in that the U.S. has never developed a broader effective strategy for any of the current conflicts the U.S. is engaged in. A systematic pullout from Syria will have ramifications for the U.S. position in Iraq and Afghanistan, a country that Trump has also signaled he wants to remove combat forces from.
The president seems to be taking a business-like approach to the conflicts in the Middle East region and is looking at this through a cost analysis prism, but he fails to look at it from a strategic perspective on how this would look to our friends in the region, our adversaries, but most importantly the cost of America’s standing in the world.
Far too long our adversaries knew they never had to defeat the U.S. all they had to do is wait us as out eventually America would grow tired and withdraw as we have done so many times in the past.
As Trump endures the criticism from his abrupt decision, Military Analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies mentioned that his emphasis on the cost and casualties in any of America’s wars cannot be ignored. The latest publically available Cost of War report issued by the Department of Defense indicates the total direct cost of America’s wars since 2010 will be $1.77 trillion by the end of FY2018 – with $756 billion for Iraq and Syria and $730 billion for Afghanistan and a large amount of support for both wars and other costs. The State Department has never provided a credible costing of its part of the fighting, but it probably adds another $127-$132 billion.
Cordesman continues, even if one ignores civilian and allied casualties, the Department of Defense reports that there were 6,978 US military dead. 5,434 killed in combat, and 52,783 wounded between 2010 and December 19, 2018. Far too many of those wounded will continue to suffer and need continuing medical care for rest of their lives.
Bush & Obama created Current Situation in the Middle East
Before all the blame is heaped on Trump one needs to place this in a broader context, as President Trump didn’t create the situation that we currently find ourselves in, nor did Trump fail to create an effective strategy in the various conflicts the U.S. finds itself engage in.
First of all President George W. Bush invade Afghanistan without any clear strategy for defeating the Taliban and failed to establish a stable Afghan government, plus he never altered or addressed Pakistan’s interference in the country or its support for Islamic terror organizations.
Next on the agenda Bush went into Iraq without any semblance of a strategy for dealing with a post- Saddam Hussein government and totally mismanaged the invasion aftermath which created a new threat from Sunni Islamic extremists and then opened the country up to Iran.
President Bush was not the only one who failed; when President Obama assumed the presidency he failed to keep a U.S. military presence inside Iraq, he never sustained or built off the success of the troop surge in 2007-08 which stabilized the country. He left Iraq to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki who embraced Iran and formulated sectarian and ethnic tensions, who placed cronies in the military hierarchy thus reversing the training they had received by the U.S., leading them to suffer a disastrous defeat at the hands of ISIS.
President Obama continued and only exacerbated U.S. failure by not intervening early enough in Syria, when opposition to the government first surfaced, failed to work in conjunction with our Arab allies that could have forced President Bashar Hafez al-Assad from power. Obama then failed to enforce his own redline when Syria used chemical weapons on its own people, this failure eventually allowed Russia back into the Middle East for the first time in forty years.
Obama continued in his failed polices by allowing Iran, Hezbollah to intervene in saving the Assad regime, his failed policies would continue by acquiescing to Russia involving itself in the Syria civil war, thus allowing Moscow to establish a naval base at Tartus thus giving them access in the Mediterranean.
This failed policy would continue in Afghanistan where he surged U.S. troops into the country, but never believed in his own strategy, set unrealistic goals for a withdrawal, and never had secondary strategy for when those plans went astray. Like Bush he also never had a strategy for curtailing Pakistani interference inside Afghanistan, and there continued support for Islamic terror organizations.
National Security Experts Failed the U.S.
President Trump came into the White House with virtually no foreign policy or military experience, but inherited major wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and minor conflicts in Asia, Africa, and throughout the Middle East. As the opponents attack the president they must acknowledge their own failure as both much of the strategic failure in the Middle East lays in the hands of both Republican and Democratic presidents perpetrated and promulgated from national security experts of both political parties.
The cost and casualties have been enormous, as Cordesman comments that the latest publically available Cost of War report issued by the Department of Defense indicates the total direct cost of America’s wars since 2010 will be $1.77 trillion by the end of FY2018 – with $756 billion for Iraq and Syria and $730 billion for Afghanistan and a large amount of support for both wars and other costs. The State Department has never provided a credible costing of its part of the fighting, but it probably adds another $127-$132 billion.
The Department of Defense reports that there were 6,978 US military dead. 5,434 killed in combat, and 52,783 wounded between 2010 and December 19, 2018. What about the wounded who will suffer and need care by the Department of Veterans Affairs for the rest of their lives?
U.S. Needs a Strategy
Far too long the United States has failed to articulate a comprehensive strategy for the various conflicts the U.S is engaged and spends far too much time debating what might have been, then spending all its efforts relitigating past policy decisions in a highly partisan manner, instead of focusing on the current situation.
Instead of withdrawal maybe it’s time to put together a comprehensive strategy that is realistic and looks at the region as it is not what we hope it to be.
An abrupt unilateral U.S. withdrawal from Syria prematurely without any consultation with senior military or civilian national security leaders, nor any notification with our partners and allies in the region and in Europe, leaves the region without any strategy for dealing with the Syrian civil war or ensuring the final defeat of ISIS is a disaster in the making.
What is left From U.S. Pullout?
Left behind in the U.S. withdrawal is the authoritarian government in Assad’s Syria, where a few years ago Obama stated he needs to go. The presence of Russia which was allowed by the Obama administration threatens core U.S. vital interests, Iranian and Hezbollah presence in Syria brings instability and threatens Arab allies and Israel, followed by Turkey’s potential intervention at any time brings renewed fighting with the Kurds, and potentially there support to Sunni extremists fighting around the city of Idlib.
The decision by Trump without ever consulting with our partners in the region, to include France, Jordan, and Israel, with many very distrustful of the U.S. leaving boosts Iran and its proxy force Hezbollah having greater sway inside Lebanon, which is flush with hundreds of millions of dollars Terhran gave the terror organization as part of the hundreds of billions given to Iran as part of Obama’s nuclear agreement with Tehran.
Where does this leave the Kurds who were our strongest ally, and other nations across the Middle East, North Africa are now going to recalibrate relations with the U.S., Trump by keeping a campaign promise and looking only at it from a business perspective fails to understand the strategic imperative of how a lack American leadership will impact America’s bottom line in the future.
With the lack of American leadership the world has become less safe not more safe.