Handing Syria over to Turkey and President Assad could create the same opening for terrorists that the U.S. originally went there to clean up.
UNITED NATIONS — President Trump abruptly ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria on Wednesday, arguing that American interests there had been achieved after having “defeated ISIS.”
That decision blindsided diplomats, military officials and other experts.
Ilan Goldenberg directs the Middle East Security Project at the Center for a New American Security.
“The argument that they made most compellingly is ISIS is going to come back if you do this, unless you plan carefully and unless you take the time to actually get this right. But increasingly I’m not sure the president was buying that.”
A hasty withdrawal may also create an opening for Iran to funnel support to Hezbollah through unguarded parts of Iraq and Syria, intensifying the potential threat to Israel, Goldenberg warned.
“If you decide that you really want to push back on Iran in the region, Syria is absolutely vital to their interests. They’re going to be in Syria for the long haul — they have 100,000 or so militia fighters supporting [President Bashir] Assad — and if the U.S. pulls out, which it looks like we’re doing in a 30-day period, that’s just open season for the Iranians.”
Turkey could also fill the American void in Syria. It hopes to crush the Kurdish troops that fought alongside the U.S. to dispel ISIS because of their desire for an independent Kurdish state.
“The best-case scenario I see is the Kurds cut a deal with the Assad regime to be reintegrated into Syria. You don’t end up with a new Turkish-Kurdish fight, so then this moves toward unifying Syria while we get our troops out.”
Still, Goldenberg says that would mean a win for Russia, a win for Iran, and put the U.S. in the position of rooting for President Assad to hold Syria together.
“When that’s your best-case scenario — Assad wins but nobody else fights — that’s not really that great of a best-case scenario.”