Word is out that President Trump has ordered the withdrawal of all US forces from Syria. Admittedly, the US only has a couple thousand troops in the country. However, the impact of that relatively small number of troops is a true force-multiplier and a poses a huge stabilizing influence for the region. According to Trump’s most recent stated goal of the US mission in Syria: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” he tweeted this morning. However, US officials have long stated a three pronged strategy with Syria, and defeating ISIS was only one of them–the other two being the strengthening of local forces so they could prevent the ascendancy of new extremist forces and to press Iran to withdraw its forces from Syria. These last two have not been met – and indeed, without active US participation in Syria, they will not be met.
Has ISIS been defeated – possibly not yet but as an effective united fighting force the writing is on the wall. Sleeper cells will exist throughout the region but the end is certainly near.
Is there an effective force that could be established in the region? Most definitely – but it’s extremely complicated. The Kurds. The Kurds are the largest ethnic group without a country of their own. The push for an independent Kurdistan – and there was a strong push for it very recently – is roundly opposed by all in the region – Arabs, Persians (Iranians) and the Turks – each for their own reasons and some more credible than others. However, short of what would practically amount to making Kurdistan the 51st state, there is little to no chance of the establishment of an independent Kurdistan.
And, then there’s Iran. Iran is looking to be the regional superpower. They currently have one proxy war in Yemen with their overt support of the Houthi’s while their support of Hezbollah might not seem to be an outright war, the Israelis might feel a little differently. Iran is currently looking to build a land bridge from Tehran to the Mediterranean – and they are very close to achieving this. Right now, the only thing stopping this is the US presence in Syria, and the US base at Al Tanf. Al Tanf occupies a very strategic position right at the heart of Iran’s land bridge to the Med.
With the US vacating Syria, Iran’s hegemonic goals in the region are all but assured. The Saudis currently have their hands full in Yemen, not to mention other self-inflicted distractions. Israel, obviously, serves as the final check to Iran – which is probably just what Tehran wants. Only the continued American presence will keep the Iranians at bay, embolden the Kurds and ensure the defeat and burial of ISIS.
The Syrian Question is more than a little complicated, and many would say that it’s not our problem. However, at some point in the future, it very likely will be – only at that point it could very well be a tougher, and more expensive, question to answer.