Rarely has the repositioning of 2,200 American troops out of a far-flung military theater caused such a ruckus.
Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. ground forces from Syria left his hawkish allies in the Republican Party, along with much of the American foreign-policy establishment, positively aghast. It even prompted Trump’s secretary of defense, James Mattis, to resign on Thursday.
“It has rattled the world,” declared a glum Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the president’s foe turned bosom buddy, who joined two senior Democrats on Thursday to plead with the president to change his mind. “If it isn’t reversed,” tweeted Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, “it will haunt this administration & America for years to come.”
These critics flatly disputed Trump’s declaration of victory over ISIS in Syria and his contention that U.S. adversaries such as Russia and Iran would take over the battle. They said that a hasty exit would devastate the Kurds, whom the Americans were fighting alongside; embolden hostile regimes; threaten Israel; and sow doubts about U.S resolve elsewhere in the world, particularly in Afghanistan.
Yet while critics of Trump’s decision proclaimed the drawdown against ISIS a geopolitical crisis, longtime experts on Syria policy were neither shocked nor, in some cases, particularly alarmed. “Looking out from a high distance, it’s the right decision,” said Robert Ford, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Syria under former President Barack Obama. “The U.S. forces can’t fix all of the problems they’ve been sent to Syria to fix.”