Two years ago, Donald Trump entered the White House like a bull in a china shop. His presidency is not disappointing his supporters, but in the Middle East, Trump has continually wreaked havoc. On Dec. 17, the president announced the withdrawal of the 2,000 U.S. soldiers that were deployed in Syria. Trump made this decision alone, without consulting the Pentagon or Congress. Two days later, he tweeted: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”
The Long List of Resignations in the Trump Administration
The decision was made after a brief conversation with Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who promised to take over the fight against the jihadi group. The withdrawal of U.S. troops unleashed a wave of criticism from within the Trump administration. Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned for good and so joined the long list of people that have left office in the last few months. Others in this category include former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. All of these resignations demonstrate that the White House has no direction and is run by tweets from its extravagant inhabitant.
Moreover, diplomat Brett McGurk, who was the special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, has resigned. While admitting his unease regarding the situation in Syria, he pointed out that those who will profit the most from the U.S. withdrawal will be the jihadi groups themselves. “The Islamic State and other extremist groups will fill the void opened by our departure, regenerating their capacity to threaten our friends in Europe.” It is also worth remembering that this is not the first time it has been taken for granted that a terrorist group has been destroyed only for it to be reborn from its ashes later. This was, of course, the case with al-Qaida. The remnants of this group morphed into the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
The main victim of the U.S. withdrawal is the People’s Protection Unit or YPG. It was this group that was responsible for the downfall of the jihadis. Abandoning them to their own devices, the Trump administration seems to view the YPG as a disposable substandard military force. Added to this is Turkey’s desire to launch an offensive against them and create a no-go zone on the border, which will inevitably lead to a new exodus of the Kurdish population. In response to this, the American president, with his usual lack of restraint, tweeted that the U.S. “will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds,” giving yet another slap in the face to one of his main strategic allies in the area since the Cold War.
Trump’s tactics clearly leave the Kurdish forces in a weak position, which means they will sooner or later have to try to negotiate with the Syrian regime for their territory under Syrian control — a quarter of their country. Damascus is completely opposed to finding a solution with the region in Iraq that is part of a federal state. At best, Damascus will be ready to allow for a limited type of Kurdish autonomy that under no circumstances would allow the existence of armed militias, given that the Syrian regime wants to retain a monopoly on the use of violence. Syrian control of Kurdish territory also means that Turkey and Syria will become geographically closer in the future. Erdogan could use his support of Syrian rebels as political currency in the event that the distance between Turkey and Syria becomes smaller.
The US Withdrawal Strengthens Assad
The U.S. withdrawal definitely strengthens the Syrian president, who, against all odds, has survived a devastating war for eight years and now controls two-thirds of Syria. Now the archenemies of the Syrian regime seem to be giving up. In fact, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have just reopened their embassies in Damascus, a move that will inevitably lead to Saudi Arabia doing the same in the coming months. Bashar Assad regaining control of his country could culminate in a high point for the Arab League when it celebrates in Tunis in March.
Russia, too, has numerous reasons to want to claim victory, given that its support for Assad has paid off. Theoretically, Iran also finds itself in an advantageous position, even though economic sanctions are chipping away at its already battered economy and there is more and more uproar regarding the costs of intervention in Syria. The constant Israeli attacks against the Iranian bases in Syrian territory has put yet more pressure on Tehran. Nonetheless, Iran does not seem ready to give up its newly conquered territory in Syria.