The Whats and Ifs of Trump’s U-turn on Syria

President Trump has announced a complete US pull-back from Syria after there is a complete victory over ISIL. The announcement took the national security agencies were totally caught off-guard by what seemed like a complete change in US policy on Syria.

Trump administration needs a serious revision of US security interests which are definitely more than handing defeat to ISIL and make an abrupt return as nothing else is of interest to the President. The most significant feature of US mission in Syria lies in containing the expansionism of Iran in the oil-rich region, not giving way to another massive wave of refugee crisis triggered by a rise in extremism and of course containing Russian influence in the Middle-east. Despite the stakes, Trump made no secret of his intentions to completely withdraw 2000 troops from Syria. Even on Eastern Ghouta, the fiercest bombardment of the enclave by the government forces which received worldwide condemnation, Trump labelled it as a humanitarian disgrace but stated that he did not intend to do anything about it.

Trump’s declaration is completely different from the statements made by his topmost defence officials as Jim Mattis last year stated that US will stay on in Syria to prevent reinvention or regrouping of ISIL 2.0 and thereby contribute to the stability of the region. Likewise former Secretary of State Tillerson had also reiterated the long-term goals of US in the region in which he had mentioned that US will continue to maintain a military presence in Syria to contain any attempts of re-emergence of ISIL and destruction of weapons of mass destruction in Syria.

The US has control over a strategic 30 percent of Syria which comprises the area which produced 90 percent of pre-war oil- a leverage which the President should not brush under the rug. However, the ground fact is that the actual control of oil rests with the Syrian Democratic Forces which are dominantly Kurds. Washington has both trained and armed them against ISIL. A US pull-out from the energy-rich region will come as a blessing for Iran as it will clamour to the oil-rich region especially at a time when the US wants to trash the Iran Nuclear Deal and thereby re-impose sanctions on its oil. Thus, a withdrawal from Syria will rob the obvious leverage. Additionally, absence from Syria will also steal the opportunity for the US to be a part of the discussions which will decide the Syrian roadmap ahead.

The withdrawal of US forces will create a power vacuum which will be filled by Iran as Kurds will definitely enter into a deal with Assad. There will be no sound opposition to the land bridge from Tehran to Beirut. Thus, US needs to have a serious and well-crafted Syria strategy to counter the widening proxy network of Iran comprising a whole axis of resistance and thus deal with the real-time proxy forces of Iran whose strength now nears 250,000.

President Assad has expressed hope and has formulated a strategy to retake the area which was originally under its control notably the region which is endowed with rich natural resources.

The US has to weigh all the options carefully before actually moving ahead with a withdrawal which will mean slipping of the valuable oil right from the grip. It can be big strategic and irreversible blunder which will also undermine US posture as a super-power in the world.

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