My basic stance on Syria:— Steve Saideman (@smsaideman) December 19, 2018
a) not all wars should be forever, so pulling troops out can be ok
b) I am squeamish about any Trump decision because he is an idiot
c) doing stuff that pleases Turkey and Russia is almost never good
d) but damn it, A.
Before responding to those who responded to this, why this take? For several reasons, but most importantly, for the US to stay in some spot, there should be, like, an argument for that. That is, the default should not be "stay" but go. There should be a positive reason--that the troops are doing something that is important. Even if they are not making progress, it might be ok to stay--holding the line, keeping an important commitment, etc can be reasonable reasons to stay. I am not thrilled with the Afghanistan forever war, but it is easier to make claims about the virtues of sticking around. The government there is one that the US and its friends have built and supported, that the government's policies may not be perfect but are better than what they would be without an American presence, that it gives the US some influence over the terms of the eventual negotiated settlement (that the presence of US troops makes far more likely).
In this US, we get the blob, the DC consensus, arguing folks need to stay (and do more, whatever more is) because they have intellectual investments in US intervention or they want to avoid being blamed when shit goes badly after we left (see Obama). In Canada, I am convinced that it still has troops in Iraq mostly to defend the Liberals from the opposition accusing the Liberals of cutting and running (which is rich, given the Conservatives pulled Canada out of Kandahar three years before everyone else pulled out). Again, the forever war machine is all about fear--of being blamed.
Ok, onto the questions/criticisms:
I agree that we need to assess what we are doing in Syria, but pulling out and letting Russia "win" seems very problematic to me.— Sara Mitchell (@sbmitche) December 19, 2018
Sara is a pal and is super-smart, so I wade into twitter argument with her warily. But, um, haven't the Russians already won? That is, if their goal was to keep Assad in place, they have won. If the joint goal is to reduce ISIS to an insurgency rather than a quasi-state, haven't we all won?
Exactly. I hear so much talk about how we care about the broader Iranian threat. But pulling out of Syria & withdrawing support from Yemen is not sending signals about credible US resolve in the Middle East. T's policies in the region are a joke/mess.— Sara Mitchell (@sbmitche) December 19, 2018
Iran matters, Saudi Arabia matters, but what does withdrawal from Syria do to all of this? My basic answer is not much.A) The Iranian threat is overplayed— Steve Saideman (@smsaideman) December 19, 2018
B) The Iranian threat is overplayed
C) What about the Saudi threat?
D) Having a reputation for resolve may be overrated.
E) If we have no strategy, the troops should be home where they are cheaper/safer.
F) The Iranian threat is overplayed.
Onto another smart scholar, one who I have never met but has become a regular twitter correspondent over the course of 2018:
Questions to ask re @smsaideman multiple choice:— Dr. J. Sargent Russell (@jsargentr) December 19, 2018
Can doing the correct thing for the wrong reasons end well?
Which carries more weight in international relations, action or "message"? https://t.co/2s2kz3kBdc
Regarding the first question, sure, why not? If it is an independent action--that it does not teach the doer to repeat doing similar things for the wrong reasons. If the action does good or if it does not do much harm. I am tempted to summon the evil god of Equifinality--that there are multiple causal pathways to an action--and what matters most is the outcome.
Which gets to the second question--what matters more--actions or messages? Well, since I tend to drink from the waters of confirmation bias, I would argue that messages will always be read by the reader in ways that confirm their previous views, so the precedent set by the US leaving a place because the President is an ignoramus will be minimal. Actions? They matter although they get read in ways that confirm people's biases as well, but they have budgetary impacts (troops based in US are cheaper than in Syria) and impacts on people's lives (the soldiers will not be in harm's way at home). What impact do the troops have in Syria? Let me know what that is before suggesting that they stick around.
It seems like it'd be difficult for right actions for the wrong reasons to end well, as the actions would be divorced from the "right" end state.— Herr Redlegmeister (@MikeTheRedleg) December 19, 2018
Again, what is the right end state? A democratic Syria? Two thousand troops are not going to get us there. Assad gone? Again, nope. Save the Kurds from the Turks? Hmmm, maybe, but not really an endstate. Deny Russia an ally in the region? See Assad sticking around.
Some other dynamics here that haven't been brought up:
- This is something Trump has wanted to do for some time, but he got slow-rolled by the Pentagon which now has to develop quickly policies to figure this out. Folks have cheered this on, but, well, that sucks for civilian control of the military. Many have been rooting for lots of shirking lately, and that ain't great. So, back to Dr. J: which matters more--stopping a US departure or respecting the chain of command?
- Holy holes in government, Batman!!! Apparently, there was a State Department press release about the long term US commitment to Syria. Ooops.