Back in December 2018, President Trump announced he would be withdrawing US troops from Syria. The establishment came out in full force to squash this idea. Trump was attacked by Democrats, Republicans and just about all the talking heads and pundits of the mainstream media.
The most common argument was that we would be leaving our allies the Kurds at the mercy of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been accused of using chemical weapons on his own people. But of course, like any pro-war argument this doesn’t hold water. In January of this year, a senior Syrian Kurdish official told Washington if the US troops leave, "The Syrian Democratic Forces can be part of the new Syrian army. This is an alternative path for us."
The other argument for staying in Syria was the fear of a Turkish invasion into Kurdish-controlled Syria. Just this week the US and Turkey agreed to a sort of buffer zone on the Northeastern border in an effort to prevent an invasion. The idea is to create an area with an operations center to allow Syrian refugees to reenter the country. The Syrian government said this decision was a "blatant attack" on Syria’s sovereignty since they were entirely left out of it.
The Kurds have appealed to Assad when it came to the issue of a Turkish invasion in the past. After the Kurds withdrew their forces from the Syrian city of Manbij in 2018, they said in a statement, "We invite the Syrian government forces…to assert control over the areas our forces have withdrawn from, in particular Manbij, and to protect these areas against a Turkish invasion."
Earlier in 2018, Turkey launched an attack against the Kurds in the Syrian city of Afrin. The Kurds asked the Syrian government to send forces to help them. Although Assad did not send any help, he let Kurdish reinforcements go to Afrin through territories controlled by the Syrian government. This sort of cooperation between Assad and the Kurds shows there is no need for US troops stay in Syria.
Trump’s reasoning behind his unfulfilled announcement from 2018 was that ISIS had been defeated in the country. The Pentagon just released a report that said ISIS forces have grown in the area due to Trump’s partial troop withdrawal. There were 2000 US troops in Syria at the time of Trump’s announcement, there is no official number available now but some media outlets have estimated the number around 1000 now. But there is really no way of knowing if any US troops have left at all. The Pentagon is just making an effort to keep the US in perpetual war in Syria.
The Syrian Civil War is one of the worst tragedies of the 21st century. Over 500,000 people have been killed. The Obama administration knowingly armed Al Qaeda affiliated opposition groups at the beginning of the war. A declassified document from the Department of Defense dated August 12th 2012 said, "The Salafist, The Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq) are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria." The document also said, "AQI supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning, both ideologically and through the media."
Continuing the war in Syria has become a bipartisan effort. Any politicians who make efforts to end our involvement in the war come under enormous criticism. Congresswoman and 2020 presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard took a trip to Syria in 2017 and had an unexpected meeting with Assad. Now whenever faced by liberals who don’t like her, Gabbard gets called an "Assad Apologist" no matter what the issue is. Even after the most recent debates when Gabbard went after Senator Kamala Harris over her record as a prosecutor, Harris responded in an interview after and said, "I think that this coming from someone who has been an apologist for an individual, Assad…I can only take what she says and her opinion so seriously."
Washington Post journalist Josh Rogin wrote a piece after the debates titled, "Tulsi Gabbard’s Syria Record Shows Why She Can’t Be President." After the US-Turkey decision to create a buffer zone Rogin wrote a story making the case for Trump to stay in Syria. The article was full of neocon talking points like, "If the Turks invade, the Kurds might ally with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to the advantage of Iran and the Islamic State." While it is true Iran is allied with Assad, the Islamic State is a sworn enemy of the Syrian government. Conflating the two shows either willful ignorance to fit an agenda, or it’s an outright lie.
In the early days of Trump’s presidency in 2017, the only time he got any positive press from liberal media outlets was when he bombed a Syrian government airbase.
Whether or not Assad is a brutal dictator should not have anything to do with debate around a US withdrawal of troops from Syria. The fact that the US knowingly armed al-Qaeda affiliates at the beginning of the war is proof enough that our intervention in the Arab country has been doomed from the start. The Kurds saw an opportunity in the destabilization of Syria to form their own state and break away from a country they have felt disenfranchised in. But the reality is the US never cared about the Kurds seceding from Syria. It’s time for US troops to come home. The Syrian government and the Kurds can unite to fight their common enemies.
Dave DeCamp is assistant editor at Antiwar.com and a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn NY, focusing on US foreign policy and wars. He is on Twitter at @decampdave.