U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from Syria and Afghanistan has raised many questions about the significance of this step and the reasons behind the decision.
Views and analyses of this step differ. The decision to withdraw is tied to the security situation in the Middle East and the anticipated fallout would affect vulnerable areas in North Africa, the Indian subcontinent, or perhaps in Europe and the Caucasus region.
Some see the withdrawal as the defeat of U.S. policy in the Middle East. The United States was unable to achieve its goal of bringing down the legitimate Syrian government, just as the U.S. failed to make Iran kneel before American hegemony and failed to achieve its goals in Yemen. Syria is quickly approaching the formation of a constitutional committee, thanks to the efforts expended by Russia, Turkey and Iran along with the help of the UN envoy. As a prelude to holding presidential elections, the committee wants to establish a constitution with the help of all Syrian political factions and the UN bolstering security and stability.
Trump has also failed to come to the negotiating table with Iran in order to reach an alternative agreement. A new agreement would replace the 2015 nuclear accords concluded between Tehran and the Western P5+1 countries and under which auspices the UN Security Council issued Resolution 2231. The European countries as well as China and Russia have remained committed to the 2015 agreement, viewing it as the best option to address the Iranian issue in the absence of any other plan.
As for Yemen, at this point the situation has only gone as far as holding direct talks in Stockholm between the conflicting parties. This meeting underscored the necessity of solving Yemen’s domestic and political problems with the participation of all Yemeni factions. The talks also proved the ineffectiveness of the military option, a strategy meant to break the Houthis' will; and recognized the Sana’a government as part of the political process that could restore security and stability without recourse to military options.
Some others view the U.S. withdrawal as a redeployment and repositioning in preparation for a new round of conflict and instability in the Middle East. The goal this round is to target Iran specifically and the Axis of Resistance generally. Some might argue that the U.S. intention here is to finally resolve lingering issues in the Middle East by isolating Iran. This isolation would coincide with what the Iranians call an “economic war” initiated by the U.S. against Iran and U.S. cooperation with Israel for the sake of striking Hezbollah, the Iranian military force in the region.
A third group views the U.S. withdrawal as a murky and unclear step. It is impossible to speculate quickly or simply about the goals behind such a move because a country like the United States, which is considered the strongest country in the world, must have unannounced intentions. Yet wisdom calls for slowing down and moving without haste lest there be rash reactions and outcomes that are inconsistent with the true goals of this withdrawal.
Against this backdrop, it must be said that President Trump has not hidden his intentions to extort countries all over the world, whether in the Middle East, Europe, Russia, China or even other countries in East Asia. He has said on more than one occasion; both during his electoral campaign and afterwards, that he does not want to defend others without receiving something in exchange. In accordance with that, the U.S. received $460 billion from Saudi Arabia as a deposit for its defense. Similarly, Trump said in early 2018 that remaining in Syria would cost $7 billion.
It would be a mistake to view Trump’s decisions as reckless and absurd individual choices lacking education, goals or motivations. The U.S. is described as an institutional “deep state” which prevents decisions of this sort. Thus, this plan to withdraw forces represents a certain political middle ground pervading all the decision-making centers in the United States. This is similar to the pervasive influence of neoconservatives' ideas during the era of U.S. President George W. Bush.
It remains to be said that the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria will certainly be in the Syrian government’s interest. Similarly, the withdrawal will serve the interests of sponsor states Iran, Russia and Turkey, which went to great lengths to maintain tension in order to then restore stability and security in Syria on their terms. But at the same time, these three countries bear both the costs and benefits of these actions.
If these three countries are able to raise their level of coordination and direct their efforts toward resolving their differences, it is possible to redirect these benefits in a way that serves security and stability not only in Syria but in the region as a whole.