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Syria Could Be Washington's Next Big Foreign Policy Failure

Doug Bandow

Security, Middle East

Members of Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army police forces patrol in Azaz, Syria January 26, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Washington has attempted to juggle inconsistent policies throughout the Syrian civil war. Attempting to stay after the Islamic State’s defeat would be even more foolish.

President Donald Trump criticized candidate Hillary Clinton for her interventionist tendencies. Now he plans to maintain U.S. forces amid battling Kurds, Turks, Russians, Iranians and contending Syrian factions. Washington’s policy is frankly mad. Having attained its primary objective, defeating the Islamic State, or ISIS, the Trump administration should wrap up American operations in Syria.

As a superpower the United States has interests all over, but few of them are important, let alone vital. Syria is peripheral to America economically and militarily. It is a humanitarian tragedy, but the United States has remained aloof from worse conflicts. Although the Assad government is odious, the country’s civil war featured numerous murderous, undemocratic, radical and otherwise undesirable factions.

President Barack Obama resisted the temptation to intervene directly in the Syrian imbroglio. In contrast, President Trump launched airstrikes against the Assad government. He quadrupled the number of U.S. troops to about two thousand. Moreover, reported Reuters, “U.S. forces in Syria have already faced direct threats from Syrian and Iranian-backed forces, leading to the shoot-down of Iranian drones and a Syrian jet last year, as well as to tensions with Russia.” Now the president is going all in, planning an extended occupation and expansive nation-building program, and risking conflict with multiple antagonists.

Some analysts have even less realistic ambitions. Declared the Washington Post: “The United States cannot prevent a resurgence of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, prevent Iran from building bases across Syria, or end a civil war that has sent millions of refugees toward Europe without maintaining control over forces and territory inside the country, just as Russia and Iran do. Only by being a factor on the ground will Washington be taken seriously as it seeks the implementation of a UN peace plan for Syria—a road map calling for nationwide democratic elections—that Russia and the regime of Bashar al-Assad are trying to bury.”

Seriously? Officials in Washington, with a few troops on the ground, are going to deter terrorist organizations, constrain Iran, end sectarian fighting, cow Moscow, and create a democratic Syria? Washington spent decades wrecking the region through misguided meddling and now is going to fix the mess in a few months or couple years? It is a delusion, a fantasy.

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