Trump has long promised to get out of endless wars - but his latest Syria move may not achieve that

Experts argue there are many chances for US to become entangled in further conflict in the region

Negar Mortazavi
Washington DC
Wednesday 23 October 2019 21:27 BST
President Donald Trump makes a statement about Syria at the White House, October 2019
President Donald Trump makes a statement about Syria at the White House, October 2019 (EPA)

President Trump defended his decision to withdraw troops from Northern Syria in a statement from the White House, and reiterated his plan to get American troops out of “endless wars” in the Middle East.

He announced that there will be a permanent ceasefire in the area and took credit for achieving a “better future” for Syria. Mr Trump took a hit at his predecessor Barack Obama for not leaving Syria after what was supposed to be a short period, and slammed political pundits who he said were calling for “yet another American military intervention”.

Getting American troops out of costly wars in the Middle East has long been a promise of Mr Trump, but his latest decisions in Syria and other countries in the region may not be achieving much of that promise. Although the president withdrew a small number of troops from northern Syria, he is still planning to keep a military presence in that same region to “secure” the oil fields in the border area.

And the larger number of US forces that are being withdrawn from Syria are not to be sent back to the United States, but the plan has been to move them to neighbouring Iraq and keep them in the region. Ultimately, American military presence in the Middle East is not really decreasing, and experts argue that there are many chances for the US to get entangled in further conflict in the region.

Pouya Alimagham, a historian of the Middle East at MIT, says that Mr Trump’s framing of the troop withdrawal from Syria is far from reality. “Syria was never our war while Afghanistan was, and the Afghan war continues unabated. Furthermore, we have maintained our bases across the Middle East, and have increased our troop presence in Saudi Arabia” he added.

Mr Alimagham believes that the US military presence across the Middle East has not helped stabilise the region but in fact added to its volatility in a dramatic way. “I am a critic of the US military presence in the Middle East based on the recent history of US interventions in the region, from the ill-fated invasion and occupation of Iraq, the reverberations of which continue until today, and the military support for human rights violating regimes such as in Egypt, to enabling the Saudi war in Yemen and our sabre-rattling with Iran,” he told The Independent.

In his statement today, President Trump said that it was not possible to halt the Turkish incursion into northern Syria without deploying tens of thousands of US troops to that area. Critics however see the sudden US withdrawal as a “green light” to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to move across the border and invade northern Syria. “In fact, it is a rare occasion for a US ally in the Middle East to commence a military operation without a US green light,” Mr Alimagham said.

The alliance with Turkey, a member of NATO, has long been important to Washington and the Trump administration does not want to jeopardise the relationship. On the other hand, Kurdish fighters in Syria seem to be considered a disposable ally by the White House and are being treated as such. While the current situation in northern Syria has developed into a tragedy for Syrian Kurds, President Trump continues to stand by his sudden decisions and the subsequent events that have followed.

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Another critical issue in Syria is the possibility of the re-emergence of Isis in one form or the other. Thousands of men, women and children have been in prisons and detention camps in northern Syria, run by Kurdish forces.

Mr Trump criticised European governments in his statement, for not having taken responsibility in the ensuing situation and urged them to take European members of Isis back to their countries for trial. While the caliphate has lost all of its territory and thousands of its fighters continue to be detained, there is growing fear that the chaos on the Turkish-Syria border would end up with dangerous ramifications.

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