Trump Should Withdraw US Forces from Syria, But He Won’t

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Max Boot rails against the possibility that our illegal, unnecessary war in Syria might come to an end:

If the United States leaves both Syria and Iraq, it will be an incalculable windfall for Iran, a rogue state that Trump claims to hate – but not as much as he seems to hate long-term commitments.

I doubt very much that Trump will follow through on the suggested withdrawal for a few reasons. First, his incoming Secretary of State and National Security Advisor are sure to be vehemently opposed to doing this, and Trump is more malleable than clay when the people around him know how to flatter him and speak to him in terms he understands. Second, Trump fetishizes looking “tough” and hates appearing “weak,” and the foreign policy “Blob” will work overtime to make sure that he thinks a decision to leave Syria (the correct and relatively courageous decision) would be the latter. Boot’s criticism of a decision Trump probably won’t make is presumably just one of the first of these attacks. Third, hostility to Iran is one of the few constants in Trump’s foreign policy, so we have to assume that when staying in Syria is presented to him that way he will acquiesce in staying. Trump thinks that Obama was too accommodating to Iran, and he is determined to do the opposite of whatever he thinks Obama did. Finally, Trump has proven that he is a pushover for the Saudis and Israelis, and both governments have saidthat they want the U.S. to stay for a long time. Disregarding these clients’ preferences is what Trump thinks Obama would do, and so he won’t blow them off as he should.

If Trump did withdraw US forces from Syria, it would be the only good foreign policy decision he has made thus far. The US military presence is illegal. It has no authorization from Congress, no international mandate, and our forces are in the country over the explicit objections of the recognized government. The US military presence is not needed to protect US security interests, which are not threatened by the prospect that the Syrian government might reclaim control over its own territory. No vital American interests are at stake in Syria, and therefore no American lives should be put at risk there. Staying indefinitely in Syria an attempt to oppose Iranian influence in the territory of Iran’s own ally is not only a waste of time, manpower, and resources in a dubious cause, but it is also runs roughshod over international law and the Constitution.

If Trump really had an “America First” foreign policy, leaving Syria would have been one of the first things he did, but he doesn’t and so that won’t happen on his watch.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He…

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