The sudden shift in US Syria policy announced by President Trump to withdraw from Syria seems ill-timed and poorly thought out. The defeat of ISIS is a long-term endeavor. As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I believe that a continued US presence is key to crafting a political transition and bringing an end to the civil war in Syria. Only a week ago the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, Brett McGurk stated that, “We are at a point in the campaign where we are really now looking ahead to make sure that we can endure and sustain all of these gains [against ISIS].”
President Obama’s decision to withdraw from Iraq hastily, teaches that not just a physical defeat of ISIS is necessary. The United States has to ensure that the Syrian civil war is resolved and ISIS does not have a safe haven within which it can reassert power.
Now that ISIS is at its weakest, staying the course in Syria is important. Precipitously withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria could embolden terrorist organizations and bolster these horrific regimes in the Middle East. We do not want to risk a resurgence of ISIS, requiring hard-fought battles to regain the ground we now hold. The US must maintain some presence on the ground after the defeat of ISIS until we can ensure that their defeat is enduring. ISIS’s defeat is only one important aspect of the Syrian civil war.
Our larger mission in Syria is to eliminate Iranian influence, counter Russia’s entrenchment in Syria and its troubling behavior in the region, and ensure the long-term stability of Syria by orchestrating some kind of a transition to a new regime, with or without Bashar al-Assad.
A precipitous withdrawal also will undermine the larger US objectives of engineering a peaceful transition in Syria by increasing uncertainty and heightening instability.
While there is mounting domestic pressure to “bring the troops home,” the US should not allow domestic politics to have undue influence over larger long-term strategic consideration. Striking the balance between domestic political considerations, humanitarian concerns, and larger strategic interests is never easy.