Who Benefits? The Syria Withdraw by David Pratt
Since 2011, in the wake of the Arab Spring movements when citizens across Northern Africa and the Middle East rose up against the tyrannical strongmen who had so long lorded over their nations, there has been Civil War in Syria. While other leaders were deposed by the waves of peaceful protests, or forcefully overthrown by a populace inspired by revolution, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad responded to the cries of his people by choosing to silence them. In order to maintain his grip on power, al-Assad ordered his military to violently suppress protesters, who in turn refused to bow to said suppression. The result has been a war in which an estimated 511,000 people have died.
During the course of the conflict, al-Assad has not hesitated to use chemical weapons against his own people. These kinds of assaults can damage survivors on a genetic level, meaning that not only will they continue to suffer the aftereffects for the rest of their lives, but any children they have will be at risk for harm as well. The conflict provided a steady proving ground for the terrorist group ISIS to get recruits real combat experience, which they then brought into Iraq and spent years occupying territory and terrorizing citizens while plundering cultural treasures and destroying ancient monuments. Over the course of the war, the government of Syria has imprisoned and tortured thousands of civilians. As of 2017, 211 journalists had been killed attempting to cover the conflict.
As these horrors continued and escalated on a near daily basis. The United States, its public drained of enthusiasm for further Middle East expeditions, struggled to respond to the growing crisis. The same political insecurities which had allowed the Taliban to take over much of Afghanistan in the 1990s without any intervention stymied the will of the Obama administration to act in a more definitive way regarding Syria. Ultimately, some 2,000 troops were sent to the region in order to act as logistics support and training for rebel groups deemed moderate and friendly to the United States and its interests, as his rampant abuses of his own people proved al-Assad was not. For his part, Syria’s dictator insists that there is no Civil War and all opposition forces belong to foreign terrorists, even as his regime bombs its own cities, murdering an estimated 85,000 civilians.
Among those moderate groups, we found the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit - the YPG. The YPG has been battling against the al-Nusra front, otherwise known as al-Qaeda in Syria, since 2013. The Kurds have fought, and won, against radical terrorist organizations all throughout the region. With the assistance of U.S. coalition forces, they’ve also been invaluable in retaking ISIS-held territory and breaking the back of that organization. It would be difficult to point to a more effective, capable ally in the region for combating jihadists that would ultimately seek to bring harm to the United States than our Kurdish allies.
Thus, when President Trump, without the advice of Congress and against the urgings of his military advisors, announced that the United States would immediately withdraw from Syria, it came as a shock, to say the least. To say more than the least, the decision was so ill-advised that it prompted the immediate resignation of Secretary of Defense Mattis, long lauded as the greatest of the President’s appointments and the most respected Secretary of the modern era, on the basis of how great a betrayal it was to our allies in the region. Specifically, the Kurdish forces who have done immeasurable work in keeping the United States safe from terrorist organizations that would have otherwise flourished in the combat fields of the Syrian Civil War. National Security Advisor John Bolton, a man who has never been accused of having good foreign policy ideas, immediately attempted to publicly deny the withdrawal. However, it has been confirmed by U.S. troops in the area that they are now preparing to leave Syria.
So this begs the question; cui bono?
What is the gain to the President by making a move unpopular throughout his entire administration while abandoning our closest ally in the region to hostile forces, such as an increasingly aggressive Turkish military? To answer, we have to take a step back and look at why the Syrian Civil War is even still continuing today, after Syrian forces loyal to the government suffered devastating losses in territory and equipment early in the conflict. The response is, unequivocally, Russian forces that joined on the side of al-Assad and turned the tide of the entire war with airstrikes and logistical support. Despite the fighting advancing to the point where Damascus itself was once within reach of the resistance, now it seems inevitable that the fighting will soon be settled and al-Assad will retain power, even as soon as this year. Which also means that this will be when Russia expects repayment for its assistance.
It is no secret that Russia expects to maintain a permanent presence in Syria following the conclusion of the Civil War. Bashar al-Assad has traded away the authority and sovereignty of his country to maintain his personal status. There is only one thing that would seriously impede a continued Russian occupation and dominion over the country and its resources - the fear that it could cause an international incident with another major power. Say, if U.S. forces were still stationed in the region.
But it appears that turning our backs on our allies to benefit Russia’s expansionist goals is something that at least one member of the administration, at the very top, is more than willing to do.