News alert: I agree with a decision President Donald Trump made! I have opposed almost every thing he has said and every action he has taken as president, so I think it’s important to recognize when I agree with him. Let me qualify it by saying that I think Trump made the decision precipitously and is executing on it in a reckless and foolish manner. But I agree with the bottom line that American troops should be vacating Syria and Afghanistan completely and in the near future.
I’m one of the few people who agree with Trump. The U.S. envoy to the coalition fighting ISIS, Brett McGurk, resigned in protest over Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria. Even the most stalwart of Trump supporters, Lindsey Graham, gave the president the harshest of criticism by invoking his nemesis Barack Obama, saying to Trump that “I believe you are on course to make the same mistake President Obama made in Iraq.” Surprisingly, Democrats are also criticizing Trump’s dovish decision, with the Speaker of the House-to-be Nancy Pelosi calling it a “Christmas gift to Vladimir Putin.”
Granted, it was a knee-jerk decision based on a phone call with President Erdoğan of Turkey rather than in consultation with Trump’s national security team but it was the right decision. Granted, he should have carefully planned the withdrawal with the Pentagon and in coordination with our coalition partners before tweeting that “it’s time to bring our young people home” from Syria and considering the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. But as a principle, I think the withdrawal of American troops from the greater Middle East is long overdue.
I understand the arguments against doing so and even agree with them to some degree. Yes, there are still thousands of ISIS fighters in Syria but I agree with Trump’s assessment that “on Syria, we were originally…”
….going to be there for three months, and that was seven years ago – we never left. When I became President, ISIS was going wild. Now ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains. We’re coming home!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2018
It would be naive to think that ISIS could be completely eradicated, no matter how long American troops stayed in Syria. Proponents of our presence in Syria would say that we should wait until the conditions are more favorable for a withdrawal but they neither say what those conditions would look like nor offer objective benchmarks that would identify when the conditions have been met. And while they might be able to tinker around the edges to provide some temporary help in isolated situations, it’s also naive to think our troops could have any significant positive impact on the clusterfuck of overall conditions in Syria long term.
The situation in Afghanistan is much the same in terms of the outcomes we could expect. We have been there for seventeen years now and the security situation has been relatively stagnant for well over a decade. Russia got bogged down in Afghanistan for twenty years before they were smart enough to withdraw. Let’s not waste more years there than Russia did because we’re too proud to admit we did not win a war. We have not been able to eradicate the Taliban in seventeen years and we wouldn’t be able to do it in seventy years. As in Syria, staying in Afghanistan any longer would not have any significant positive impact on the overall conditions there either.
So mark my words—President Trump is right to order our troops to withdraw from the greater Middle East. He should listen to his own national security team for advice on how to do it rather than succumbing to the whims of other autocrats. But one way or the other, he should bring the troops home.