While defenders of a U.S. withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan claim that doing so is the only alternative to fighting “endless wars,” Paul Wolfowitz argues that retreat is in fact a recipe for the opposite—as evidenced by a recent Defense Department report that Islamic State (IS) is already regrouping in areas of Syria abandoned by American forces. Yet the alternatives need not require large investments of American blood and treasure:
Abandoning allies who have advanced American interests while fighting courageously for their own is not a formula for avoiding another large-scale United States military engagement in the Middle East, but rather for ending up in another one. Next time, however, will be without the local allies we need.
The way to protect our critical interests in the Middle East while minimizing costs and risks for the United States is by supporting people who, while fighting for their own interests, also protect America’s.
The eight blood-soaked years that the Assad regime has remained in power may have cost more than half a million Syrian lives and have created hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people. That humanitarian disaster also produced the strategic vacuum from which Islamic State emerged in northern Syria to invade and destabilize Iraq, forcing then-President Obama to return the troops he had withdrawn just a few years earlier. Now with President Trump building on that earlier failure, Russia and Iran may gain effective control of Syria.
Donald Trump [now has] an opportunity not to undo his decision—he has unfortunately already created a new and much more complicated situation—but to revise it and continue some support for our Kurdish and Arab allies so that they can achieve a reasonable negotiated settlement. The goal of a revised operation should be made clear: it is not to seize Syria’s oil, as President Trump has suggested, but rather to keep that strategic asset out of the hands of our enemies.