United States President Trump announced this month that he is ordering the quick withdrawal of all American troops from Syria. This unexpected move has received both appreciation and backlash. Whilst his supporters believe that America has already poured in enough resources in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and that it is time its men and women in uniform return home, the opposition strongly believe that the ISIS is still not defeated as Trump claims and that leaving Syria in this hasty manner is going to mark the beginning of another turmoil in the region.
United States has a history of entering countries under the banner of the “war against terrorism” and making the exit without ensuring all loose ends are tied. Is this trend doing more harm than good? For instance, let’s consider the United States intervention in Afghanistan which took place in 1979 (to counter the Soviet Union during the cold war period ), and in 2001 (to fight the Taliban and the al-Qaeda.).
The first time around, the United States, through Pakistan’s ISI, funded the Mujahideen. One among the Mujahideen was Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda which went on to create chaos all over the world including the September attacks in United States. In 2001, post 9/11, when the Taliban in Afghanistan refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom and entered Afghanistan. After the initial defeat of the Taliban, the US failed to stabilise the country. This led to the return of a more determined Taliban and the war in Afghanistan stretches on. Some reports suggested that the Taliban control more territory now than they did 17 years ago.
Recently, Trump signalled his desire to draw the troops out after 17 long years. This caused serious global concern. With the withdrawal of US and NATO troops, the Taliban are likely to come back into power and the status quo will revert back to an era under the Taliban regime. Which begs the question, what really did the US accomplish in Afghanistan? While the withdrawal might end America’s longest war in history, it does not mean a win from any perspective.
In 2003, US invaded Iraq to end Saddam Hussein’s rule and disarm the country of weapons of mass destruction. America’s involvement led to a fall of the political structure in Iraq, creating a vacuum that unleashed a power struggle and fostered sectarian violence between the Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites. The US extended their support to the Shiites which caused the incensed Sunnis to join extremist groups such as the one founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the brain behind the notorious Islamic State (ISIS). The US was unfortunately more concerned about making a quick exit from Iraq and failed to extend their support to stabilise the country. ISIS soon made an easy comeback.
The US intervention in Libya is considered a debacle. America intervened to assist a regime change in the country and helped overthrow Gaddafi. With no one to assist in rebuilding, amidst the power vacuum and presence of a large store of unguarded weapons, ISIS arrived and created a foothold, pulling the region back into trouble, plausibly leaving it in an even worse condition than before the US-NATO interference.
Coming to the subject of Syria, the country has been fighting since 2011 to oust Bashar al-Assad and change the government. The countries that are participating in this conflict are divided by their vested interests. Whilst Russia and Iran are extending their support to an ISIS supported Assad, the United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are supporting the rebels. Obama justified US involvement by stating that America stands on the side of change that advances self-determination. And then there is also the question of ISIS, a terrorist organisation that US leaders have vowed to purge the world of.
While US President Trump believes that the time has come for America to leave Syrian soil, there is concern whether this sudden exit is going to make a bad situation worse.US has nearly 2000 troops in Syria, if they were to move out, the legitimate fear is that the scattered ISIS has the space now to regroup and re-emerge stronger. Without US, Russia and Iran have free-range to bolster Bashar al-Assad and the Kurds are left to fend for themselves with one less ally.
If history reveals a pattern it is America’s strategy of intervening in a country’s affairs when its interests are vested and making a precipitous exit with no regard for what they are leaving behind. The conflict in Syria has grave geopolitical impact and a worsened Syria is likely to affect every participant, including the United States.
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