Security, Middle East
The United States did what it needed to in Syria: defeated the Islamic State. Now everyone else in the Middle East should play clean-up.
Donald Trump ran for president advocating a different kind of foreign policy. But his appointees are taking a Clintonesque approach to Syria: half-hearted military intervention on behalf of minimal security interests, resulting in great risk with little gain. To avoid escalating involvement in someone else’s war, the president should assert control over his foreign policy.
When asked about Syria recently, the president responded that it was all about the Islamic State: “We are there for one reason, to get ISIS and get rid of ISIS and go home. We are not there for any other reason.”
But his officials believe that America’s involvement is about everything other than the Islamic State. In a recent speech Secretary of State Rex Tillerson implausibly defended America’s involvement in yet another permanent war as, among other things, a refusal to “restore Assad and continue his brutal treatment of his own people” and “provide Iran the opportunity to further strengthen its position in Syria.”
Some seventeen hundred American military personnel are expected to deal with what a Pentagon official described as “converging forces with diverging interests.” The resulting conflict is horrendous, but the parties haven’t finished their fight. Yet another UN call for a ceasefire won’t stop the conflict. Nor will the administration policy, which involves broad commitments, minimal interests, multiple combatants, inadequate resources, unrealistic goals, antagonistic powers, conflicting objectives, minimal oversight and nonexistent public support. What could possibly go right?
The 2011 Arab Spring spawned public protests in Syria, which were brutally suppressed by President Bashar al-Assad. Armed resistance followed, leading to a multisided civil war. The Obama administration simultaneously sought to defeat ISIS, oust Assad, encourage moderate insurgents, pacify Ankara, use Kurdish forces, avoid Russian complications, and enlist the Saudis.
The Islamic State lost and the Kurds were used, but otherwise Washington failed to achieve its objectives. Assad survives and is retaking territory, there never were many genuine moderates to promote, Turkey invaded and attacked Washington’s Kurdish friends, combat forces backed by the United States and Russia have clashed, and Riyadh dropped the anti-ISIS campaign to launch its brutal campaign against Yemen, dragging in Washington.