On the Decision to Withdraw from Syria

There are a plethora of aspects to President Trump’s decision to remove our troops from Syria, seemingly virtually all bad; these are being covered by any number of experts much better versed than I.  There appear to be few sensible members of the Administration nor knowledgeable members of Congress that support this decision.  Sen. Chris Coons has suggested that more than ninety members of the Senate disagree with this decision.  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford was apparently notified of Mr. Trump’s decision after the President announced it by tweet.  If this latter report is accurate, it is more than unnerving; it is scary.

It appears that departing Defense Secretary James Mattis was aware of the decision before it was made, and voiced strong disagreement.  Although every American should wish Mr. Mattis well on a personal level, his resignation is both disheartening and alarming – disheartening because he was a level, experienced voice that provided a steady hand in what is clearly a sea of chaos; alarming because it is clear from his resignation letter that he had lost the ability to curb President Trump’s aberrant impulses.

At some level, all of us can appreciate the President’s desire — magnified by his isolationist spirit – to start to withdraw from our seemingly intractable Middle Eastern involvements.  (To boot, he promised his supporters that he would withdraw, and he is manic about fulfilling campaign promises.)  These understandable motivations need to be balanced against the likelihood that the withdrawal will enable ISIS to regroup, solidify Russian influence in the Middle East, aid Iran, imperil Israel, project a lack of American resolve in other areas of the world, etc., etc.  That said, the two areas of concern that most stand out for me are the manifestly disunited process preceding the decision and the peril in which the contemplated withdrawal will place our Kurdish allies in Syria.

Our Syrian Kurdish allies have been our most effective fighting force against ISIS.  They have clearly hoped that given the support that they have provided us, we would in turn support their desire for an autonomous region if not an independent Kurdish state.  They are hated by ISIS, the Assad regime, and Turkey.  Kurds, generally, are considered a danger by Iran and Russia.  The Afghan and Iraq regimes certainly have no love for them, due to their own nations’ independent-minded Kurds.  If we go forward with this withdrawal, we are turning our backs on these dedicated allies.  They are going to be assaulted from virtually all sides.

While there are profound examples in our history of a President making decisions contrary to the recommendations of his military command and prevailing opinion (Abraham Lincoln’s conduct of the Civil War coming most readily to mind), it is disturbing that this President – untutored, rash, self-focused, at least preoccupied by if not unraveling as a result of the Mueller probe — is dispensing with appropriate procedural guideposts in the conduct of the most sensitive of his responsibilities.  And:  before ISIS-designed or -inspired bombs start going off in Paris, Berlin, London, or New York, our Syrian Kurdish allies may well have been purged.

I still see bumper stickers around Madison declaring about Mr. Trump:  “Not My President.”  With all due respect, Mr. Trump is our President (the Russians influenced segments of our citizenry, but it was still our people that pulled the voting levers), and thus, our Commander in Chief.  Military strategy falls within his purview.  Those of us calling for respect for law in other contexts need to have respect for our laws in all contexts.  However, although a certain amount of damage has already been done by the withdrawal announcement, I am hoping that Mr. Trump will ultimately reverse this decision given the widespread outcry – including from those that have generally supported him — regarding its potential consequences.

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