I’ve been asked repeatedly how it can be that everyone outside the White House disagrees with abandoning U.S. allies in Syria, and yet the White House is proceeding with an abrupt cut-and-run away. What is in it for them?
It’s a fair question. Given everyone across the political spectrum thinks quitting is a bad idea, including those apolitical who think most about national security, what possibly could motivate such an epic bad decision?
While tempting to link the move to personal profit and greed of the cabal in the White House, such as real-estate deals, there’s a larger international relations angle on this that fits into what we’ve seen over the last few years.
First, Putin has been said to want to destabilize Europe by tactically capitalizing on refugees:
Russia has been accused of “weaponising” the refugee crisis as a way of destabilising Europe – a claim recently reinforced by Nato’s top commander in Europe. That assertion may well be disputed. What is beyond doubt is the continuing need to know what Russia is thinking, and what goals it might pursue as it watches the EU confront multiple crises.
Second, that is an expected outcome from the U.S. diminishing its own power and abruptly abandoning its allies, encouraging Turkey to intervene and stir conflict.
Turkey’s offensive is likely not only to damage America’s diplomatic credibility and create a humanitarian crisis; it could lead to the escape of thousands of ISIS prisoners currently being held by Kurdish forces. In one of his more galling statements in a week that was full of them, Trump said this wouldn’t be America’s problem since they would likely be “escaping to Europe. That’s where they want to go.” With northeastern Syria once again an active battlefield, and Iraq engulfed in a new round of political chaos, conditions are certainly ripe for a new resurgence of ISIS or a new organization that takes up its mantle.
Those two points together suggest the U.S. withdrawal hands Turkey more leverage over the democratic nations (Kurds) and states (EU) that threaten an Erdoğan anti-democratic regime. Furthermore it serve Putin’s doctrine of destabilization so he may capitalize on human suffering for political objectives.
In security circles the U.S. abandonment of allies could be called a penny-wise pound-foolish strategy that degrades American foreign policy and its own security. The U.S. administration covers the loss with claims of providing immediate gratification domestically. Clearly however it will cause far wider suffering and higher cost in the near future. Here is why even those immediate gratification claims don’t make any sense:
Given there are so few American soldiers in this draw-down, it can’t be said to be in the name of a troop withdrawal from conflict or ending a war. This is especially true because thousands of troops were just deployed to Saudi Arabia, so the balance stands at greater and less-efficient deployments to the region.
Inversely it can be said while there are so few American troops, Syria was a cost-center that produced a high return on investment primarily in terms of regional and national safety. Yet regional stability no longer is valued as before, as the administration has sought personal alignment with dictators not to mention kick-backs and pocket-linings. Thus troops are being sent to Saudi Arabia as an alignment gesture, whether they stabilize or not.
Saudis regularly pay billions for old American cluster bombs to kill children and disrupt food production with campaigns that cause long-term regional destabilization.
In 2008 an international treaty called the convention on cluster munitions severely limiting the use, transfer and stockpiling of cluster bombs was adopted by 30 countries. By 2018 it had been signed by 120 states. The US, which sells arms to Saudi-led forces fighting in Yemen, was not one of them.
“Cluster munitions went through a proportionality test to measure military advantages gained versus civilian harm of their use,” said Rawan Shaif, the lead Yemen researcher at the open source investigative organisation Bellingcat, of the Geneva conventions relating to the protection of victims of armed conflict. “There’s no military advantage in using a cluster munition in a farm, unless your aim is to make that area uninhabitable for generations of civilians and military alike.”
The cluster bomb that killed Raja was manufactured at the Milan Army Ammunition Plant in 1977. The large site, just north of Jackson in west Tennessee, encompasses 231 miles (372km) of roads and 88 miles (142km) of railways and is nicknamed Bullet Town by residents.
And in terms of national safety, the administration has exhibited a harm externality mindset, where threats of ISIS are foolishly downplayed because harms to self (U.S.) are factored as longer-term and therefore ignored compared with harm being publicly wished as an immediate threat (as promised by Putin) to others (EU).
In conclusion, while there are elements of a White House chasing personal profits and even putting money in pockets of some other Americans, overall this ill-conceived abandonment of allies is to serve the anti-EU policy of Russia that cruelly capitalizes on humanitarian crisis and undermines stability, as directed in this region by Turkey.
One last thought on this is the significance of women in the Kurdish forces and how values that traditionally would be consistent with the U.S. are now bizarrely misaligned. Given both Putin and Trump repeatedly have stated in the open how they disrespect and dislike women, it should not be overlooked how misogyny factors into a decision to suddenly divorce the U.S. from its long-time allies.
Kurdish history is replete with cases of women assuming leadership roles in the realm of religion, politics and even in the military sphere.