The United States has never had any good options in confronting the grim realities of the Syrian civil war. Trump’s decision to get out may or may not be a good one. It may not have been made for the right reasons and it surely doesn’t reflect a thoughtful consideration of all its implications. But it is not nearly as consequential as some of the alarmists—including the editorial board of the New York Times–would have us believe. (The fact that the alarmists include the likes of Sens. Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton tells me that Trump’s decision cannot be all bad.) We are talking about 2,000 troops functioning as trainers. Not a big commitment in the grand scheme of things. The idea that their withdrawal threatens the collapse of the war against ISIS is just not plausible. Trump’s claim that that war is already won is grossly overoptimistic, but in any case, it will go on: as Trump himself observed, Russia also sees ISIS as its enemy, as does the Assad regime.

Of course, Trump’s assertion that Russia is “not happy” about his decision is a typical Trumpian falsehood. This is indeed a victory for Russia and Assad and also for Iran. I don’t particularly like being nice to bad guys. But even the United States of America has limited resources, and our ability to make a real difference in Syria is limited. We need to ask ourselves whether our involvement there serves the interests of the American people. For kneejerk interventionists like Graham et. al., the answer is obvious. For the rest of us, it shouldn’t be.

It will be interesting to see how Democrats react to Trump’s decision. The temptation will be to stake out a position to the hawkish right of the president, as many have done on Russia and Korea. That would be unfortunate, because ultimately this is really about much more than Syria. It is about a foreign policy that assumes American power can and must be actively engaged practically everywhere in the world. In his ignorance and amorality, Trump has challenged that assumption. So far none of the potential Democratic presidential possibilities has had anything to say about Trump’s decision. I predict that some will criticize the president for irresponsible retreatism. Hopefully, others will come up with a more thoughtful and nuanced response. We shall see.



  1. Harry December 20, 2018 at 9:10 pm

    But you haven’t actually said whether you think Trump’s decision is good or bad. What do you think?

    • tonygreco December 20, 2018 at 10:40 pm

      I think that all things considered–and that’s a lot of things–it was on balance the right move. But it’s a close call.

  2. Jeffrey Herrmann December 21, 2018 at 12:47 am

    Putin was overjoyed by the Syrian withdrawal, and Jim Matthis quit because of it and Hair Twittler’s equally impulsive decision to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan. Bolton is reportedly at odds with Hair Twittler over these decisions, too.
    Soon the orange Capt Queeg, ever prone to conspiracy fantasies, may start to suspect a mutiny is brewing on the ship of state. What happens then?

  3. Donald Campbell December 23, 2018 at 11:23 am

    It is possible to agree with Trump that our troops don’t belong is Syria with-out supporting the way it was done. Once a commitment is made, if a change is necessary it should be done in consultation with allies. In this case it is the Kurds who are at risk and because they are among USA’s most stalwart allies, it is unforgivable. The presence of the American troops there has provided cover for the Kurds.

    That being said and given the kaleidoscopic and prescient nature of the Syrian situation, it was folly to commit US troops there, particularly after the debacle in Iraq, not to mention Afghanistan and Libya.

    The folly of American foreign policy, which is supposed to represent ‘Pax Americana,’ has left a void which is being filled by Russia, Iran and others. This situation which predates Trump has been exacerbated by him and in addition to other Trump policies, particularly sanctions and the explosion of the budget deficit, has put the world in an unstable if not explosive situation.

    The Democrats are likely stuck backing a belligerent foreign policy as the resurgent nationalism in the USA has likely stymied any efforts for peace. It appears we are headed for a reckoning, probably sooner rather than later and we can only hope that the reckoning will not be too severe and that well thought out policies will then be adopted to improve the fortunes of the world.

    • tonygreco December 23, 2018 at 12:41 pm

      I agree, and I should have made it more clear, that the exit from Syria should have been done with proper notice and consultation. The damage to the Kurds is the major negative, in my view, but it is serious.

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