op-ed

What To Do About The Syria Problem

REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Alan Keyes Former Assistant Secretary of State
Font Size:

What danger will result from not completing a course of prescribed antibiotics?

The danger to the individual is that the infection will recur, and will be more difficult to treat when it does. The danger to the rest of us is that the general population of the infecting bacterium will become more resistant to the antibiotic concerned.

In the last week of March, during a speech in Ohio on rehabilitating America’s deteriorating infrastructure, President Trump said that the U.S. is “knocking the hell out of ISIS…We’re coming out of Syria, like, very soon.  Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon—very soon we’re coming out.” On Tuesday, April 3 he reportedly linked withdrawal from Syria with to the infrastructure reconstruction: “I want to bring our troops back home.  I want to start rebuilding our nation.” At a press conference with leaders of Baltic nations, he alluded to the need to coordinate the decision “with others in the area.” An ABC news report asserted that he also suggested that “if others, like Saudi Arabi, want the U.S. to maintain a president in Syria, perhaps they should pay for it.”  On April 4, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders appeared to confirm the President’s wishes, while mitigating the impression that a formal decision to withdraw is very imminent.

Some readers may think it odd that I put a quote about using antibiotics at the head of an article about U.S. policy in the the wake of defeating ISIS. I suspect, however, that most of my readers will see the point immediately.  Like me, many have had the experience of second-guessing their doctor’s prescription for a course of antibiotics. Feeling better after a day or two, they let it slide. Getting on with their busy lives, they ignore the little tickling or irritation in their throat or nasal passages.  When the returning infection starts to interfere with their concentration, they resume taking their medicine. This time there’s no improvement. Feeling worse than before, they soon find themselves back in the doctor’s office.

Born under the aegis of one of our deadly enemies, Al Qaeda, ISIS developed like such a returning infection.  At first hidden among the rebels fighting against the Assad regime in Syria, it bloomed into a particularly sadistic and murderous threat.  it was anathema to our allies and partners in the Middle East, who backed the rebel cause. They wanted to eradicate it. We joined with them in an effort that has proven more and more successful since President Trump took charge.  

But the focus required to achieve that success also gave the Assad regime an opportunity to reassert its control, with the help of Iran and Russia.  When President Trump says we will withdraw and leave others in the region to deal with the aftermath of the victory over ISIS, does this include Iran and Russia?  But if the Trump Administration is poised to repudiate the agreement intended to prevent Iran’s deployment of nuclear weapons; and if Putin’s Russia is really the murderous adversary our recent expulsion of Russian diplomats suggests, what sense does it make to leave these governements with a free hand in Syria?

This question gains greater significance in light of the rapprochement that appears to be drawing the Erdogan regime in Turkey (still, formally one of our NATO allies) into a de facto alliance with Russia and Iran.  This alliance complicates the challenges confronting the Iraqis and is likely to be detrimental to our key partners in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabi. So, the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, leaving others to fill the void, isn’t merely about “bringing the troops home.”  It is actually about withdrawing from what has been our crucial leadership role in the region, leaving it prey to the opportunistic aggrandizement of Russian and Syrian power.

If we were dealing with a geostrategically marginal region of the world, this might be excusable.  But in economic and military terms, the Middle East holds vitally important keys to the fate of Europe.  If the U.S. simply abdicates its leadership role, in favor of an axis composed of two parlously Islamic states and  Russia, it could be taken as proof that ‘America First!’ portends a future that leaves America standing alone. But doesn’t the latter involve denying our vocation as a nation of nations, dedicated since its inception to an understanding of humanity rooted in the obligation to do right by the God-endowed nature all humans have in common?

With this general imperative in mind, what is our stake in the war in Syria?  The Assad regime appears to be a despotism not at all averse to murderous repression. Its Iranian and Russian backers may be described in similar terms.  As it turned out, with ISIS apmg them, the rebels against the regime took on the same appearance. Did the United States have a dog in that fight? Insofar as we had an interest, it might agurably have been served by “letting you and him fight”, as it were.   With the murderous thugs battling each other, weren’t they less likely to disturb the general peace?

Unhappily, not in the Middle East. There, the accurate response to that question is “What peace?”  The civil war in Syria, for instance, reflects and involves the larger state of war that permanently prevails in the region.  Though Israel is, de facto, touted as the common enemy of almost all the states in the region, that enmity does little to disturb their quarrels.  Unaccountably, the so-called “peace process” that involves Israel and its neighbors presumes that peace between them is possible. But there is no logical reason why the Israelis should trust that any peace agreement with their neighbors can last when those neighbors seem utterly incapable of making peace, even among themselves.

So far, like its predeccessors, the Trump adminsitration is pursuing the shibboleth of peace without addressing this conundrum.  But when we joined forces with others to defeat ISIS, we again acted in terms of the premises of justice our national character demands. This despite the fact that we found ourselves battling ISIS and Syria at the same time, sacrificing precious lives and material resources to light a candle at both ends, as it were. The result: the very regime the Adminsitration bombed on account of its apparent atrocities grows strong on account of the victory over ISIS our comabt forces helped to achieve.

If now we leave the scene to others, atrocity will still prevail.  If we truly seek a larger peace, predicated on an agreement that ends all formal enmity against Israel, we now have the right to demand, for the sake of that peace, some tangible proof that the agreement establishing it will not be similarly in vain. If countries who profess to respect and follow a religion of peace cannot make peace among themselves, it makes no sense to believe they will keep peace with Israel, especially when their perpetual hostility towards Israel—fueled by murderous hatred of Jewry—seems to be the only bond that gives them a façade of unity and common purpose?

In a region intrinsically disposed to war, ISIS may be eradicated, but the radical strain of violent fanaticism that spawns it still lies in wait, hidden in the fog of endless war, and likely to emerge in some grotesque new form of systematic butchery. This is why our forces in the region should continue to work in cooperation with friendly nations to make sure any remnants of ISIS are fully eradicated. But the simple truth is—there can be no peace in the Middle East until peace prevails among the states whose constant battles with one another contradict the notion that Islam is a force for peace.  Why shouldn’t the Trump Administration instigate an effort to bring about that result?

Using the UN Security Council as the appropriate forum, the United States and its friends in the region should challenge Russia and its cohorts to join in an effort to bring peace to Syria and among the parties embroiled in its civil war.  We should seek an accord that allows all the nations presently taking sides in the Syrian conflict to come to terms with one another; and with the people in their respective countries who have been ravaged and afflicted by incessant turmoil. Instead of a policy content “to let you and him fight”, the United States should encourage a process that asks all parties involved to make the peace in which they adamantly profess to believe, bringing an end to the interminable warfare that makes mock of that profession of faith.  

Alan Keyes is a political activist, writer and former diplomat.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.