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On Sunday Oct. 6, President Trump announced a sudden withdrawal of United States troops from northeast Syria. The military had been operating alongside the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces in that region for years. The Kurds have been one of the strongest forces fighting the ISIS caliphate during the Syrian Civil War. They currently hold eleven thousand ISIS captives. The President said that this decision was made since ISIS was completely defeated in the region and there is no longer any U.S. interest in keeping troops there.
This move was met with widespread condemnation from both sides of the political aisle as Democrats, Republicans and other government officials alike claimed Trump was recklessly abandoning our allies, especially in light of the threat posed by Turkey. The territory of Northern Syria has historically been of interest to Turkey. Kurdish people have been routinely oppressed by the Turkish government for decades with the Kurdish language even being banned outright in Turkey. In addition, the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has made his imperialistic ambitions clear for years. So, it was no surprise when Turkey’s military invaded Syria shortly after the U.S. troop withdrawal began. To President Trump’s credit, sanctions were issued against Turkey for these actions; however, Erdoğan is still defiant and has even suggested pulling out of NATO, which will have its own cascade of resulting problems.
The United States military efforts within the Middle-East for the past twenty years have been an unbridled disaster, and as such I am sympathetic to sentiments of wanting to bring the troops home. However, America should pursue a foreign policy of active de-escalation, which means opposing regime change in most circumstances as well as withdrawal when it can be done. Abandoning the Kurds is a horrible mistake as it was apparent that it would lead to escalation of tensions between Syria and Turkey and may result in a possible genocide of the Kurds. America should fully support the Kurds, as they are very progressive for the region. They are very pro-democracy, anti-authoritarian and pro-equality between men and women. In addition, a Turkish invasion poses a risk of eleven thousand ISIS captives escaping and being able to rebuild their terrorist organization. Pulling troops out of Syria has the potential to become Trump’s greatest blunder of his presidency.Independent – Carmel Rafalowsky
I have very mixed feelings about Trump’s decision to pull American forces out of Syria. On the one hand, there are some positives to the situation: first, the order forced the Central Intelligence Agency and Special Operations units to act quickly and conduct a raid which ultimately left Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, dead. Second, American troops are back on American soil and out of harm’s way.
However, the sudden withdrawal has several dangerous implications. America’s presence in the region was a barrier to the Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s threats of military intervention against Kurdish forces—who are part of the Syrian Democratic Forces—in Syria. The withdrawal leaves Turkey with little reason to not follow through with the threats, and indeed, the New York Times reported in early October that Erdogan told President Trump on a phone call that he would be sending Turkish military forces into northern Syria.
Russia also stands to become a stronger force in Syria as a result of the withdrawal. Russia helped prop up Syrian President al-Assad’s government throughout the civil war and in turn secured a naval port in the Syrian city of Tartus on the Mediterranean Sea, a strategically important location for a base. Since allying themselves with Syria, Russia has had a stronger influence in the Middle East; the absence of American forces in the area now allows Russia to expand its military footprint without much pushback.
These developments concern me, both as an American and an individual with family in the Middle East. Russia already interferes in Middle Eastern politics, and I don’t like the idea of Russia having more power in that realm. I dislike the idea of a Turkish-Syrian war even more. While America’s presence in the region was not ideal and cost us American lives, it at least deterred these possibilities. Now, nothing is stopping them.Conservative – Mark Pothen
This might be the worst policy that President Trump has pursued over the tenure of his presidency. Kurdish forces have been repeatedly mistreated by the American government over the last few decades and this is the most recent example. By removing troops from Syria without heeding the advice of his senior officials, the president essentially enabled Turkish forces to slaughter the Kurds.
The president’s justification for moving the troops was that “We interject ourselves into wars, and we interject ourselves into tribal wars and revolutions and all of these things that are very—they’re not the kind of thing that you settle the way we’d like to see it settled. It just doesn’t—it just doesn’t work that way. … And it’s time to come back home.” He echoed a very isolationist appeal.
Many of his allies have critiqued this move including former ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley who, writing in a tweet, contended that “We must always have the backs of our allies,” and that Kurdish forces were “instrumental” to the US fight against ISIS in Syria. Thus, “leaving them to die is a big mistake.” There were also concerns about a resurgence of ISIS because of a lack of manpower to continue to monitor ISIS detainees, especially when Kurdish forces are being attacked by Turks.
After being raked over the coals for his idiocy in this situation, the president reached an agreement with the Turkish government for a permanent ceasefire to suspend Turkish military operations in northern Syria while also removing sanctions. Adding insult to injury, the speech given by president Trump with regards to this ceasefire was blatantly absurd. In the speech, the president argued that the United States had “saved the lives of many, many Kurds” which is obviously false. He then went on to state “Let someone else fight over this long-bloodstained sand” which ignores the significant contributions of the Kurds to defeat ISIS in the region. This entire ordeal could have been prevented if the president had some semblance of knowledge in this situation. If anything, this situation showed that the president definitely has some vulnerabilities in the coming 2020 election.