Turkish and U.S. troops conduct joint patrols around the Syrian town of Manbij, Nov. 1, 2018. (Voice of America, Carla Babb)
On Wednesday, December 20, 2018, President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria with immediate pulling of U.S. personnel, followed by the pulling of about 2,000 U.S. troops in the coming weeks. On December 20th, President Trump said, “Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer. Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing there work. Time to come home & rebuild.” This will effectively end the four year campaign in Syria. The world was left puzzled and questioning what happens now in Syria, there are a number of factors to take in consideration and potential outcomes, will Iran and Russia strengthen their foothold in Syria? Will the forces of Bashar al-Assad cleanse the nation of opposition forces? As announced, will Turkey’s forces move to attack the YPG?
The troop withdrawal announcement came two days after the State Department announced that it had approved a purchase by Turkey of 140 Patriot missiles and associated equipment. Just a day before on December 17, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that the Turkish military would move to attack the YPG. The leaders of both nations, the U.S. and Turkey, have held a number of telephone conversations, about Turkey’s warning to move against the YPG forces, and also right before President Trump announced the troop withdrawal from Syria. The situation is further more complicated and questions by the process of peace negotiations which are set to continue in the next year by Turkey, Iran, and Russia – discussing a proposal to create a new constitutional body in Syria.
Turkish Heritage Organization Advisory Board Members respond to the announced U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria and the implications for the region:
Mark Meirowitz, THO Advisory Board Member and Associate Professor at SUNY Maritime College. He holds a doctorate in Political Science and is a recognized expert on Turkish Foreign Policy, US-Turkish Relations and Turkish-Israel Relations. He has lectured and written extensively on these subjects.
“The question of the US troop withdrawal from Syria is a thorny issue in US-Turkish Relations and for US foreign policy. Many Senators and Congressmen, members of the US military community and experts on US foreign policy have expressed opposition to the US withdrawal of its troops. US withdrawal would precipitate a complete disintegration of the strategic situation in Syria ushering in a marked increase in Russian and Iranian influence, control and even hegemony in Syria. The fact that Putin is in favor of US withdrawal should be treated with an excess of caution. The only counterbalance in Syria now is the US presence.”
“I believe that such a withdrawal of US troops would in the end be problematic and counter-productive for Turkey as well, since Turkey may even be held accountable for the inevitable chaos that will ensue in Syria following a US troop withdrawal. Once the US withdraws, a Pandora’s Box of woes will be unleashed which Turkey and the other regional powers will not be able to contain.”
“President Trump apparently made this ill-advised decision on his own and hopefully the decision will not be implemented. It is not a coincidence that the announcement of Defense Secretary Mattis’ retirement in February came right after the announcement of the US troop withdrawal from Syria.”
Herbert Reginbogin, THO Advisory Board Member and Professor of International Relations and International Law. He specializes in U.S. public policy; political, economic, and security issues facing Europe; the Middle East; and East Asia. Throughout his career, Dr. Reginbogin has written over 15 publications on these topics.
“To say the least that Daesch or ISIL is defeated and the USA is victorious is totally 'fake new.' The illusion and complete disregard by President Trump for the impact to order the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Syria will have for U.S. security in the region and for the people of Syria and our allies are totally irresponsible. Think for a moment that this is a free pass for Iran to build a corridor across the Arab Peninsula to the Eastern Mediterranean. It is propaganda for Daesh to recruit more people by pointing out that they defeated the USA. Daesch is by no means defeated and this will come back to haunt the USA in many ways.”
“In regard to Turkey, it will be an open invitation to launch a military operation east of the Euphrates River to fight the YPD whereby had the USA remained there would have been more at stake than this goal both for Turkey and the USA because ultimately the main goal is the destruction of ISIL and the reconstruction of Syria to have an opportunity to defend its borders against ambitions by Iran and to live in a more democratic system without a war criminal like Bashir Assad. The USA is no longer at the table, and it might as well be now on the menu. This is a major setback for America and the world. Now will Turkey use the opportunity to demonstrate leadership and statesmanship in trying to arrange a dialogue with its adversary to find some common ground of agreement to prevent terrorism from the Kurdish groups may they be PKK or any other that does not commit to upholding and respecting he territorial integrity of Turkey. This is the final option before war and destruction results.”
Michael Gunter, THO Advisory Board Member and professor of political science at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, Tennessee where he teaches courses on international relations, international organizations, international law, American foreign policy, European politics, and American politics, among others.
“US President Donald J. Trump’s announcement that he would withdraw US troops from Syria will challenge Turkey to take a leading, conciliatory role to help bring peace to this civil-war-torn country and in so doing intelligently serve Turkey’s own best interests.”
What other experts have said about the recent developments in Syria:
Ilan Goldberg, Middle East Security Director at Center for a New American Security
“Mattis’s letter is a warning that the international order that Ds & Rs have stood together to protect for 75 years is under threat. If Trump breaks it, it may be impossible to repair. If Rs in the senate truly care about this it’s time to start considering impeachment.”
“To be clear. US foreign policy has been far from perfect since WWII. Vietnam, Iraq, Central America, & many many more mistakes. Not making excuses for those.”
“But the bottom line is that the international system of alliances & security/ economic relationships that the US has led and built has thus far succeeded in preventing devastating great power wars that kill millions & affect billions.”
Marty Dempsey, General (Ret.), 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
“Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Kurds, Israel, Russia, Iran. Lots of implications. Individual actions make sense only if part of an integrated strategy. And only if closely coordinated with those allies who have been marching alongside us. Strategy is a team sport.”
Amanda Sloat, Senior Fellow at Brookings
“I think its going to be a significant development, it’s certainly one that is going to be welcomed in Tehran, and Moscow, and Damascus, if not by the Syrian Kurds. President Trump has long been clear that he has wanted to pull the U.S. troops out of Syria, in fact his advisors managed to persuade him not to do that at multiple points over this year. I think the Kurds will probably not be surprised by this decision even if they may have been caught off guard by the timing and I think they have been quite strategic in terms of maintaining relations with a number of powers operating within Syria and there is some speculation about whether the YPG now is going to be trying to expedite its conversations with Damascus so it gets regime backing if the Turks decide to launch a military campaign against them.”
Christopher Bolan, Professor of Middle East Security Studies at Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College
“Earlier this week reports began swirling that President Trump has decided to pull all U.S. troops from Syria despite Pentagon objections. If these reports turn out to be accurate, the academic, public, and political debate over who ‘lost’ Syria will rage for days or weeks. Opponents of this decision will claim that a U.S. withdrawal hands both Russia and Iran a significant ‘victory’ in the contest for regional influence in the Middle East. However, these criticisms are overblown. Russia and Iran were positioned from the beginning to be the dominant influencers in the course of Syria’s civil war. Moreover, what passes for a short-term win for Moscow and Tehran will likely prove to be a rather hollow and Pyrrhic victory.”
You can read Professor Bolan’s full analysis here.