This article was published in Ahval News on December 22, 2018.
Trump’s withdrawal shows decline of US influence
U.S. President Donald J. Trump, on December 19, in a surprise announcement revealed his plans to withdraw American troops from Syria. As usual, the US President chose to make his statement on Twitter. According to the statement, US Department of State personnel in north-eastern Syria will be evacuated within 24 hours, and the American troops will pull out in the next 60 to 100 days.
Some suspect that the decision was made hastily and without proper consultation.These doubts are evident in the statements of some senior military officers who served in critical positions. They claim that it is wrong to withdrawing before completely eliminating ISIS and the Iranian threat.The US’ primary goal in arming the Kurds in Northern Syria was to remove the Iranian threat.
Many senior military officials, who now will be implementing the President’s unexpected decision, stated in the past that the United States would not withdraw from Northern Syria and would continue to arm and train the Kurdish YPG fighters. General Mark Milly who is going to be appointed chief of joint staff as of Jan. 1, is on the record to make such statements.
In the meeting organized by Vice-president Mike Pence to inform the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of the withdrawal decision, the senators voiced their reaction for learning the decision from the media and both the Committee Chairman Bob Corker and its members said that they were opposed to the decision. The decision may cause important shifts in the regional balances.
On the same day of the announcement, PYD sources leaked that the Kurdish militias working with the US troops felt stabbed in the back by the US.
Time will show whether Trump can implement this decision despite opposition from the Pentagon and the Congress. However, it should be acknowledged that this decision cannot be contradicted openly after the US President has announced it.
It was reported both in the Turkish and American media that President Trump made his decision following a phone call with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last week. It was also reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump had reached an agreement on the issue of Kurds in north-eastern Syria earlier this year. The US-Russian decision, made on Feb. 27, called the ’Qamishli Model’ proposed conceding many cultural rights to the Kurds in the region within the framework of the territorial integrity of Syria. According to this plan, the Syrian flag was to replace all the PYD flags in the region.
It appears that the US discloses now a decision that it did not want to give high visibility so far. As a matter of fact, in recent years the US have been planning to reduce its military presence in the Middle East and focus on the Pacific Rim to counter China’s increasing influence in the international arena. However, the recent events in the Middle East delayed the implementation of this plan.
Withdrawing US troops from Syria was one of President Trump’s campaign promises. And of course, it was not realistic to expect a non-state actor like PYD to do what a strong NATO country like Turkey could do. As Turkey’s resolve to carry out a military operation in the east of Euphrates continued to increase, Trump might have thought the time has now come to put into action his initial plan and decided to implement it.
According to the decision, it seems that Turkey will enter Syrian territory and establish a security zone that will be 15-20 kilometres wide – 40-50 kilometres at places, resettle there the Syrian refugees and entrust the security of that belt to the Free Syrian Army. Yet, it is not clear whether all of the refugees that will be resettled came in the past from this region; if they did not, whether they will be willing to be resettled in this area; and whether the original landlords will agree to the resettlement of the returnees in their properties.
Two other things should not be ignored in this regard;
Firstly, US was planning to train and equip the Syrian Democratic Forces whose backbone is composed of the Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units
The second issue is connected with Turkey’s security. If the YPG poses a threat to Turkey, it will still pose the same threat from 15-20 km to the south of the border. The only difference will be that the FSA fighters can buffer the severity of the danger but cannot eliminate it altogether.
Trump’s decision will be perceived as the decline United States influence in the area and across the world. As a reaction, the U.S. may either adopt a positive attitude towards Turkey or a negative one. The wisdom requires the adoption of the latter attitude. The US government’s decision to allow sales of U.S. Patriot missiles to Turkey a day before this announcement gives the impression that the adoption of the positive attitude is more likely.