19 December 2018   Leave a comment

US President Trump has ordered the immediate withdrawal of US troops from Syria after tweeting “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there.”  Unfortunately, the decision was announced with very little detail so we do not know the pace of the withdrawal, what arrangements have been made with other partners in Syria, such as the Kurds and Israel, and whether residual, non-combat troops, will remain in the country.  Reuters is reporting that:

“One U.S. official said Washington aimed to withdraw troops within 60 to 100 days and said the U.S. State Department was evacuating all its personnel in Syria within 24 hours.

“A second U.S. official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. military was planning for a full withdrawal but said the timing could be quicker than 60-100 days.”

The troops withdrawal does not necessarily imply a vacuum in the country since there are 5,200 US troops in neighboring Iraq and all air missions over Syria are conducted from the US military base in Qatar.  But the political and psychological dimensions of the withdrawal are hard to measure.   Certainly Russia, Turkey, and Iran will have significantly greater freedom of movement in Syria without having to worry about engaging US troops.  Josh Rogin, a writer for the Washington Post, argues that the move undermines previous US statements on Syria:

“….there’s no doubt that as of Monday, James Jeffrey, the U.S. special representative for Syria engagement, was advertising a diametrically opposed strategy. In a presentation at the Atlantic Council in Washington, Jeffrey said the United States would stay in Syria until three goals are met: ensuring the lasting defeat of the Islamic State, rolling back Iranian influence and achieving a political solution to the crisis.

“’The strategy is to use these various levers, the lever of all these military forces running around … the fact that much of the territory and many of the more valuable resources such as oil and gas are not in the hands of the regime,’ to prevent the Assad regime, Russia and Iran from achieving total victory on their own terms, Jeffrey said.”

Indeed, at the end of his speech, Jeffrey said “I am confident the president is on board with this.”  We will need to wait to assess how firm the President’s decision may be.  Apparently President Trump consulted with virtually no one about the decision.  When Republican Senators were informed of the decision, many of them, including Senators Cornyn and Graham, were outraged.

I have always opposed US troops in Syria and think that this decision may be a very good one.  But everything really depends upon how the decision is implemented.  If the withdrawal suggests indecision and incoherence, it could be a disaster.

 


 

The New York Times has published a story about 1,100 hacked emails from European diplomats which assess foreign policy issues in frank and undiplomatic language.  The hacked emails were discovered by a computer security service, Area 1,  which has published the details of how it discovered the emails (for those of you with computer expertise, the Area 1 report is filled with technical details ).  According to the Times:

“Hackers infiltrated the European Union’s diplomatic communications network for years, downloading thousands of cables that reveal concerns about an unpredictable Trump administration and struggles to deal with Russia and China and the risk that Iran would revive its nuclear program.

“In one cable, European diplomats described a meeting between President Trump and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in Helsinki, Finland, as ‘successful (at least for Putin).’”

It appears as if the hack was relatively unsophisticated, exploiting lax security systems of European diplomats in Cyprus.

Posted December 19, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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