Dec. 31, 2018
- Many observers have asserted that the U.S. withdrawal from Syria gives victory there to Russia, Iran and the Syrian government. That’s absurd. Bashar al-Assad’s regime already controls two-thirds of Syria, including all of the major cities.
- The portion of Syria that U.S. forces control alongside their Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) allies is mostly either desert or drought-prone plains. The oil fields there produce high-sulfur, low-value crude, and production has long been diminishing. In sum, holding northeastern Syria would not have enabled Washington to leverage any important concessions from Damascus, Tehran or Moscow.
- The Syrian Kurds have always allowed Damascus to keep its security offices open in northeastern Syria. If anything, the Syrian Kurds prefer the deployment of Syrian government forces along the Turkish border to deter Ankara. Agile Russian diplomacy should be able to secure the deal for a deployment of Syrian government forces into the region formerly controlled by the U.S.
- Nor will the U.S. withdrawal be a game changer for Israeli security. Already, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, a former chief of the research division of Israeli military intelligence, noted that the U.S. troops’ contribution against the Iranian forces in Syria was “marginal to zero.”
- If Iran tries to build a land bridge from Tehran to its allies in Lebanon, the Israeli Air Force is more than capable of interdicting those convoys.
- Critics also warn that the U.S. withdrawal could lead to a resurgence of the Islamic State. This is possible, but U.S. troops can’t destroy the Islamic State ideology, and restraining future recruitment by the extremist group requires more than some infrastructure rehabilitation projects. Only Syrians, not U.S. troops and stabilization teams, can deal with Syria’s underlying societal problems that spurred Islamist extremist recruitment.The writer, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and Yale University, was U.S. ambassador to Syria from 2011 to 2014.