The president’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria and, by default, to support a Turkish offensive against the Syrian Kurds is strategically short-sighted, and it will do lasting damage to American credibility. The consequences of abandoning the Kurds are already playing out as the Kurds have diverted their resources and attention to fighting Turkey instead of stabilizing the region in the aftermath of the Syrian civil war and the defeat of the Islamic State.
Since allying with the United States to eliminate ISIS, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — comprised predominantly of Syrian Kurds — have suffered over 10,000 casualties. They have been essential to defeating the physical caliphate of the Islamic State in Syria, and have been responsible for holding thousands of ISIS prisoners and administering refugee camps that remaining ISIS sleeper cells have sought to infiltrate and exploit.
Now that Turkey has invaded Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria, our SDF partners have had no choice but to refocus resources to protect their territory. The consequences of this new environment have already rapidly played out to the detriment of U.S. interests and regional security. Last week, militants attacked a Kurdish checkpoint in the Islamic State’s one-time capital of Raqqa, and just this weekend, hundreds of ISIS affiliates escaped a Kurdish-administered camp amidst a Turkish-led assault.
Our military leaders have been warning against the threat of remaining ISIS fighters in Syria, and the diversion of Kurdish resources to fighting Turkey will only expedite an ISIS resurrection. Leaving a small contingent of U.S. troops in Syria is a logical hedge against the potential need to deploy more troops in the future to fight a resurgent ISIS.
The decision to remove our troops will also adversely alter the geopolitical landscape of the region and embolden our adversaries in Russia and Iran. Throughout the Syrian conflict, Russia has sought to supplant the United States as the dominant power in the Middle East. While Americans may rightfully be wary of continued involvement in the Middle East, a region dominated by Russian influence will embolden dictators and non-state actors that support Russia’s interests at the expense of the United States, and will increase the probability of wider instability and conflict in the Middle East.
Iran, on the other hand, has regional hegemonic ambitions and seeks to control the territory between Tehran and Beirut. This land bridge provides for increased regional influence, access to Iraqi and Syrian resources, and bring them to the edge of Israel’s doorstep — who, in tandem with their Hezbollah proxy in Lebanon, they have vowed to destroy. Our forces in Syria aligned with the Kurds created a bulwark against an influential nexus forming from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Most damaging, this decision will do irreparable harm to America’s credibility as a reliable partner to our allies, and as a credible adversary to our enemies. For decades, the United States has relied on non-state, indigenous forces to assist in the fight against Islamic extremists from South Asia to Africa, and to push back against malign influence from hostile state powers. These partners are essential to our strategic interests now, and will continue to be essential long into the future. To withdraw our troops from Syria and leave the Kurds to be attacked creates the perception that the United States will abandon our partners without due consideration to wider strategic consequences and relationships. Finding partners in the future to help us advance our interests will prove remarkably difficult if this dangerous precedent is set.
To be sure, Turkey’s actions create a strategic and diplomatic conundrum. We are treaty-bound allies with Turkey, and their concerns over radical Kurdish elements that threaten their territorial integrity must be considered. However, a new conflict in Syria resulting from Turkey’s operations will have devastating impacts on the future of the Middle East. Turkey’s invasion is guaranteed to create additional Syrian and Kurdish refugees, create an environment ripe for ISIS resurgence, and solidify Russian and Iranian influence in Syria.
We must make clear to our NATO ally Turkey that it is within our collective interest to maintain support for friendly Syrian Kurds. Instead of removing our troops, we should maintain our footprint, clearly define our interests and goals, and lay out a timeline for success to combat the perception of a senseless and permanent troop deployment in Syria.
To ensure our gains against ISIS are not erased, and to mitigate our adversaries’ influence in the region, I strongly urge President Trump to reverse his decision to withdraw our troops from Syria.
Francis Rooney (@RepRooney) has represented Florida’s 19th congressional district since 2017 and is the ranking member of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He previously served as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.