America’s withdrawal from Syria: Are congratulations in order?

Yesterday, President Trump spoke about the cease-fire in northeastern Syria. He declared it a major diplomatic victory for the administration.

Trump noted that critics had “scorned” him for removing U.S. troops from areas controlled by the U.S. and our Kurdish allies. “Now,” claimed Trump, “people are saying ‘Wow, what a great outcome — congratulations.'”

Most of Trump’s critics aren’t saying this, though. They complain that Trump has opened the door to a resurgence of ISIS and to expanded control of the region by Russia and Iran.

I don’t want to minimize the interests of our Kurdish allies and the blow to U.S. prestige that rightly flows from abandoning them. However, my two biggest concerns about our withdrawal were always the ones noted above — not Russia very much, but certainly ISIS and Iran.

As to ISIS, the plan apparently is to redeploy our withdrawing troops to western Iraq and have them continue fighting ISIS from there. However, Iraq says that U.S. forces are only “transiting” through Iraqi territory and will depart within four weeks. Iraq’s prime minister said, after meeting with U.S. defense secretary Mark Esper, that “the government has confirmed that it will not grant permission for U.S. forces retreating from Syrian territory to remain in Iraqi territory.”

Until we see whether the U.S. is able to continue fighting ISIS effectively and, if not, whether ISIS becomes a significant threat once again, it is premature to say “wow” or to congratulate the administration. Congratulations would also be premature because we don’t know whether or to what extent Iran will profit in Syria from our withdrawal.

What we can say is that an epic bloodbath of Kurds seems to have been averted and that U.S. troops weren’t caught in the middle of a Turkish invasion of Syria. For me, that’s not a “wow,” but it’s something.

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