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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Withdrawal of US Military from Syria

My earlier guess that Presidents Trump and Erdogan had discussed Syria on the telephone appears to have been correct and, based on that conversation, President Trump later announced that the United States would pull all of its military out of Syria.  Erdogan recently said as much and indicated that the call had been held in December of last year.  Trump sent Bolton to Ankara to work out the details of the withdrawal.  Before meeting with Erdogan, Bolton made several public statements to the effect that there was no time table for the withdrawal and that it was contiditional on Ankara’s commitment not to harm the Kurdish fighters that were allied with the USG in the fight against ISIS.  Erdogan reiterated his belief that the YPG is a terrorist organization and refused to meet with Bolton saying that he would prefer to discuss the matter with Trump in another telephone call.

My earlier post on this subject outlines the basic situation between Kurd and Turk and explains why Erdogan is taking a hard line against the Kurds - particularly the YPG.  I will not go over that ground again here.  Instead, I am going to go out on a limb and try to understand what is motivating our President.  I believe that his fundamental objective is to remove us from the mess in Syria.  I take him at his word that he does not want to engage in nation building and believes that it is high time for others in the international community to step up and take a share of the responsibility for ensuring order in world affairs.  I doubt that he wants to harm those that have helped us diminish ISIS, but he sees it as his duty to look out for American interests first.  Syria costs too much in blood and treasure, so he is determined to get us out.  He sees Erdogan’s eagerness to expand Turkish involvement in Syria as a useful way to accomplish his objective.  

President Trump’s eagerness to get our troops out of Syria is generating a considerable backlash.  I doubt that there are any supporters for this course of action among those who have been involved on the ground, nor do any of our allies in the region agree with it.  On the other hand, Ankara, Teheran, Damascus and Moscow are, for a variety of different reasons, delighted.  My guess continues to be that Erdogan and Trump will eventually work out acceptable wording for the joint public declaration that will permit Washington to pull our forces out.  I am also skeptical that Ankara will abide by the spirit of that declaration.  The expansion of Turkish presence inside Syria is designed to weaken the Kurdish subversive campaign inside Eastern Turkey and to block any additional migration of population out of Syria into Turkey.  A secondary objective is to protect and preserve the anti-Assad groups that are currently holed up in Idlib Province.  Although Ankara is opposed to ISIS, I doubt that their pursuit of ISIS remnants will be as effective as we would like.  Down the road a very short distance, Ankara and Damascus will have problems with the manipulation of ethnicity that is accompanying Ankara’s occupation of Syrian land.

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