Deep down, what does Donald Trump want in Syria?

Published 08.04.2018 20:48

The new U.S. military bases in northern Syria indicate Washington does not want to pull out of the country, and instead is planning to do something new in the region

The Turkish people (quite understandably) find it difficult to understand U.S. foreign policy. This is because there are deep contradictions between Washington's actions and statements by U.S. officials. Those contradictions reflect differences of opinion between American policymakers. But that's not the only reason. The U.S. faces serious problems on the ground and in strategy development. Especially in Syria, the country pays a heavy price for getting into bed with the wrong people.

U.S. President Donald Trump's most recent statements about pulling out of Syria sent shockwaves throughout the international arena. At first, some people liked to think that Mr. Trump was joking. But he made the same point again and again to take the crisis to a whole new level. In the wake of his announcement, spokespeople for the State Department and the Pentagon told reporters that Washington was not planning to withdraw. According to media reports, U.S. officials were able to talk Mr. Trump into keeping American troops in Syria just a little longer. Or so the story goes.

In truth, though, Washington has absolutely no intention to withdraw from Syria. That's a fact we can tell from looking at a number of U.S. military bases being built across Northern Syria. In other words, the U.S. military plans to stick around – regardless what Mr. Trump says. At the same time, the Americans are obsessed with Iran right now and the Trump administration will devote all its time and power to Tehran's containment – a campaign that will presumably start in Syria. Seeking to ensure Israel's security, the U.S. is unlikely to withdraw troops, which are currently stationed between Iran and Israel, anytime soon.

So why is Mr. Trump talking about pulling out of Syria? His remarks were a message to U.S. allies and rivals in the Middle East. From Washington's perspective, the list of hostile players includes Turkey, Russia and Iran, whose growing power over the country's future limits Washington's influence. In an effort to undermine their role, the Trump administration fuels chaos and uncertainty on the ground.

At the same time, Washington is unhappy with the level of "commitment" expressed in Syria by its allies. When Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch in January, the U.S. military announced that members of the terrorist organization PKK and its Syrian branch, the People's Protection Units (YPG), suspended counter-Daesh operations in Eastern Syria and shifted their focus on Afrin. To make matters worse, the militants messed up in Afrin and suffered a humiliating defeat in the hands of the Turkish Armed Forces and the Free Syrian Army. As such, it became clear that PKK/YPG terrorists, who are currently part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, were incapable of fighting America's wars in the long run. The terrorists are both weak and detrimental to Turkey-U.S. relations. In response to the most recent developments, the U.S. started looking for new, more capable allies. Mr. Trump's phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, which was followed by a series of bold statements from Paris about the Syrian crisis, were quite noteworthy. By hinting that he could pull out of Syria "very soon", the Trump administration tells U.S. allies that they will be left all alone in the conflict zone – albeit not in so many words.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump repeatedly suggested that taxpayer dollars were being wasted in Syria. By announcing a potential withdrawal from the conflict zone, he tells U.S. allies, particularly Saudi Arabia, to share the burden. To be clear, the U.S. president isn't even beating around the bush. He said during a White House press conference with leaders from three Baltic nations that "you know, you want us to stay, maybe [Saudi Arabia is] going to have to pay."

Taking into consideration everything mentioned above, it is possible to conclude that the Trump administration's Syria policy is as follows: Having invested into new military bases in Northern Syria, the United States doesn't actually want to pull out of the war-torn country. Instead, Washington is currently looking for new partners capable of sustaining the U.S. presence in Syria. At the same time, the Trump administration expects U.S. allies to step up their efforts and make additional financial contributions.

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