The withdrawal of American troops from Syria announced by Donald Trump led to another round of government crisis in the United States. Now the post is left by the head of the Pentagon, Mattis, who is convinced that the president actually left the Middle East in favor of Russian interests.
December 19, the day before the big press conference of Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump announced that the Americans will begin withdrawing troops from Syria, where they have been since 2014. The American intervention consisted mainly in delivering rocket-bombing attacks on Syrian territory in a coalition with the Air Force of almost 70 more countries.
The main declared goal of the United States was to defeat the “Islamic State”, although in fact the Americans set themselves a purely political goal – to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. And this would have been possible, if not the intervention of Russia, which in 2015 also entered the Syrian war, and also declared its goal to defeat ISIS. Washington failed to implement the main task, but the Americans succeeded in strengthening the Kurds, who managed to create their own state in the north of Syria.
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When the interests of other powers in the region, including Turkey and Iran, were tied to the “Syrian tangle”, American politicians began to unequivocally declare that the goal of the US military presence was to counter their interests. For example, in September, the former ambassador, and now the representative of the State Department for Syrian Cooperation, James Jeffrey announced: the United States will not leave Syria, even after the defeat of the “Islamic State” … to oppose Iran.
The same position was shared by the national security adviser to the president John Bolton: according to him, the American troops would not leave Syria “as long as the Iranian troops are outside the Iranian borders.”
The administration’s special envoy to combat ISIS, Brett McGurk, also told reporters last week that US forces would remain in Syria in order to consolidate their military achievements.
But, apparently, Donald Trump is not really listening to his advisers, since he decided to complete the American intervention. And not only in Syria, but also in Afghanistan, from where half of the contingent should be withdrawn from January (7 out of 14 thousand servicemen). And all this without any attempts at a political settlement, and even under Trump’s statements about the final and unconditional victory over the Islamic State.
Therefore, it is not surprising that after the presidential statement, special envoy Brett McGurk and Defense Secretary Mattis slammed the door, and relations with Trump were far from smooth during two years of work.
Mattis criticized many extravagant presidential initiatives, including the strengthening of a group of troops near the border with Mexico, the suspension of joint military exercises with South Korea (as a gesture of goodwill towards North Korea), the creation of the Space Forces … He was not too enthusiastic about the harsh tone that Trump spoke with the leaders of the major allied powers, from Britain to Germany.
So Trump’s statement about the withdrawal of troops from Syria, the American allies met with bewilderment. For example, French Defense Minister Florence Parley tweeted: “DAISH (ISIS ) is still not erased from the map. The last pockets of this terrorist organization must be finally defeated by military means.” The French military contingent of a thousand troops remains in Syria.
We discussed the situation in the Middle East with our permanent expert and senior researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Mikhail Roshchin.
– How do you think, why did Trump decided to withdraw the troops from Syria despite the Russophobic position of his advisers?
– Trump had long been planning to leave Syria, and at the end of the year made the right decision. Let us remember that it was not he who introduced the American forces, but Barack Obama, who was also considered a “peacemaker” and even received (though no one understood why) the Nobel Peace Prize.
You are right that not everyone in the United States agrees with the important changes in the Middle East policy of the White House. The US special envoy to combat the Islamic State resigned, and the head of the Pentagon, James Mattis, also resigns. But I want to believe that this will facilitate the arrival of new realistic-minded politicians in the government.
The US political class has recently headed for a confrontation with Russia in various areas. The departure from this on the Syrian direction is perceived by the majority of the American establishment with hostility. I think Mattis desire to resign is related to this. But from the position of Russia, the withdrawal of American forces from Syria shows that our policy in this country has proved successful and effective.
In Washington, they wrote a scenario in which a conflict between the army of the Russian Federation and the Armed Forces of Ukraine may occur.
– And could the Turkish president have an influence on Trump, after a conversation with which the decision on the withdrawal of troops was announced?
- It is quite natural that before making such a responsible decision Trump spoke over the phone with Recep Erdogan. Indeed, despite all the differences, Turkey remains a strategic partner of the United States in the region. And Turkey will definitely benefit from Trump’s decision. This is completely obvious. Its position in Idlib will increase, and Turkey will increase its pressure on Kurdish armed forces in Syria.
- What now will be the Kurds, who supported the United States?
– The Kurds have a difficult situation now: Kurdish autonomy in Syria does not need either Assad or Erdogan, and she simply does not care for the pragmatic Trump. By the way, Americans in the past often abandoned their allies to the mercy of fate: it’s enough to recall their refusal to support South Vietnam in its confrontation with North.
I know that the Syrian Kurds have already appealed for support to Emanuel Macron. Although the Kurds are not so clear: Damascus can, in principle, use them to squeeze the Turks out of Syria, and this is an important fact for the Syrians.
– What position will the United States now take on the fate of Assad?
- Certainly, the backroom negotiations with the Assad government by the Americans have been tacitly conducted for a long time and are now. It seems that today we are just seeing the transition of quantity to quality. I mean that the withdrawal of Americans from Syria opens up the real prospect of restoring full Syrian sovereignty over the territory of the country. And it is obvious to all interested observers that Assad remains the only authoritative leader in the country who has stood in a fierce fight for survival.