On President Trump’s announcement yesterday that he will withdraw U.S. troops from Northeast Syria:
The situation is complicated and has been worsened by US policy over the years. The short response is that we never had a legal right or legitimate purpose to intervene in Syria in the first place. Even if Trump is proposing it, the right thing is to withdraw ASAP. The same for Turkey — our erstwhile NATO ally — which is occupying parts of Syria and threatening to take more.
If we had not set a bad example, the proper path would be for the UN to condemn all foreign intervention in Syria. We may not like the presence of Russians and Iranians, but they were invited by the Syrian government — which holds a seat at the UN — and their intervention is lawful, just like – right or wrong – our own military involvement in Iraq or Korea.
The Syrian government is no model of democracy and the Syrians deserve something much better. But they certainly don’t deserve something worse, which is what is on offer from the array of mostly religious and sectarian fanatics that have been supported by the US, Turkey and our Gulf monarchy allies. ISIS and Al Qaeda are the worst, but the rest of the armed rebels are mostly a horrific spectrum of jihadists , Syrian and foreign, that have been armed directly or indirectly by our government (starting under Obama) and our allies. None of them are democratic. The secular democratic opposition, if it ever amounted to anything much on the battlefield, is now clearly marginalized or supporting the government as a lesser evil, with the hope of reform after the war is over.
We spent over a $billion in arming Syrian rebels (our allies spent multiples more of that), much of which made its way to ISIS — just as our earlier intervention in Afghanistan led to the rise of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Therefore it is no wonder that many Syrians — in my view most of them, especially among Christians and other religious/ethnic minorities — prefer a secular authoritarian regime to the imposition of a Saudi-type repressive Islamic society.
And Syrians, like most people in the Middle East given their colonial history, are very sensitive on the issue of national unity and suspicious of outside interventions to fragment their countries. The Kurds have legitimate grievances in Syria (and Turkey) but they will have to work these out with their national governments, not through de facto partition supported by outside powers. We should encourage this rather than stand in the way.
Other articles on Syria by Jeff Klein
You May Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows in Syria (and Beyond)
Syria’s faultlines extend into Lebanon and Palestine
‘Say Hello to Zenobia’: A report from Palmyra rising from the ashes
What’s Left of Palmyra — and Syria
What do Syrians Want? What should we do?
Amid Missiles and Bombs in Damascus