Last week, Donald Trump unilaterally ordered for the US military to withdraw from the Syrian’s civil war theater. Coming as somewhat of a surprise to the Pentagon, this prompted the high-profile resignations of both Secretary of Defense James Mattis and anti-ISIS coalition envoy Brett McGurk. A bipartisan condemnation ensued, accusing Trump of abandoning allies and setting a dangerous precedent for future military excursions.
This also enraged the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces primarily responsible for waging the lion’s share of the war it took to dislodge ISIS from control of vast swaths of Syria, largely with the help of coalition air support from the United States and Russia. Some 2,000 US military personnel on the ground, training SDF forces and providing targeting information over the last several years, were reportedly deeply unhappy as well with the order to abandon the SDF’s mission.
While ISIS isn’t quite, as Trump declared, extinguished in Syria, the idea that they would regain significant territory or pose a threat beyond guerrilla terror actions is a slim chance. Assad, as his father before him did, has endured the war and will likely seek Russian-guided mediation with the remaining fractured rebel groups. The NATO proxy now abandoned, reconciliation between the SDF and Assad also seems likely as the two rarely fought during the war.
On paper, this seems like a tidy end to what has been a devastating, terrifying conflict for the region. Supporters of Donald Trump attracted to his isolationist foreign policy rhetoric cheered the move and chided Democrats that otherwise normally encourage reductions in US military involvement in foreign lands as flip-floppers, even accusing them of being in line with the neoconservatives so reviled by so-called libertarians and anti-war liberals alike.
Some anti-imperialist internationalist “far-leftists” decried the pull-out too, eyeing the social revolution in Kurdish Rojava (a presently semi-autonomous zone carved out during the war, seen as an opportunity for a Kurdish homeland) and its vulnerability to being crushed by an imminent invasion from Turkey, citing elements of the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) operating within or controlling entirely the YPG/YPJ (People’s Protections Units, largely Kurdish militias that spearhead the SDF) as casus belli. Other anti-imperialist internationalist “far-leftists” praised the move, citing that a reduction in US military imperialism as more important than a burgeoning revolution, likely still bitter that an ostensibly anarcho-communist influenced militia made the frankly pragmatic move to accept US military support in exchange for not being completely wiped out by ISIS at the peak of their strength just a few years ago.
There’s a lot going on here, it’s extremely confusing, there’s a lot of acronyms, and making sense of the various viewpoints and ideological axes to grind is tough to do.