Look who's stepping up in the wake of planned US withdrawal from Syria

Reports of the impending massacre of Kurdish forces in Syria and the resuscitation of ISIS following the U.S. pullout of Special Forces from Syria – like those of Mark Twain's death – appear to be greatly exaggerated.  Consider these responses from countries in the region, nations whose safety and vital interests are far more acutely impacted by events in Syria than our own.

Reuters reports:

Turkey will take over the fight against Islamic State militants in Syria as the United States withdraws its troops, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, in the latest upheaval wrought by Washington's abrupt policy shift.

For Turkey, the step removes a source of friction with the United States.  Erdogan has long castigated his NATO ally over its support for Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters against Islamic State.  Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group and an offshoot of the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), fighting for Kurdish autonomy across the border on Turkish soil.

In a speech in Istanbul, Erdogan said Turkey would mobilize to fight remaining Islamic State forces in Syria and temporarily delay plans to attack Kurdish fighters in the northeast of Syria – shifts both precipitated by the American decision to withdraw.

Turkey is not the only regional power that hates and fears ISIS.  And the Kurds are not without allies besides the United States.

Kurdish PKK forces (photo credit: KurdishStruggle).

Middle East Monitor reminded us a month ago that Saudi Arabia and the UAE already have forces in Syria fighting ISIS while protecting the Kurds:

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have sent military forces to areas controlled by the Kurdish YPG group in north-east Syria, Turkey's Yenisafak newspaper reported.

The paper said the forces will be stationed with US-led coalition troops and will support its tasks with huge military enforcements as well as heavy and light weapons.

Quoting the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the newspaper reported that a convoy of troops belonging to an Arab Gulf state recently arrived in the contact area between the Kurdish PKK/YPG and Daesh in the Deir Ez-Zor countryside.

This comes at a time when Ankara is preparing to launch an expanded military operation with the Free Syrian Army against the Kurdish PKK group in the northeast of Syria.

So the Syrian withdrawal has forestalled a potentially explosive conflict between two allies already at each other's throats.  This should count as an immediate Trump foreign policy achievement, but don't hold your breath waiting for anyone in the swamp to acknowledge that.  Neither Turkey nor the Saudis want a direct conflict between their forces, so they are likely to keep each other in check on the Kurds, and focus on the joint project of eradicating ISIS.

Also stepping up is Israel:

Israel will escalate its fight against Iranian-aligned forces in Syria after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday. ...

"We will continue to act very aggressively against Iran's efforts to entrench in Syria," Netanyahu said in televised remarks, referring to an Israeli air campaign in Syria against Iranian deployments and arms transfers to Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, carried out with Moscow often turning a blind eye.

"We do not intend to reduce our efforts.  We will intensify them, and I know that we do so with the full support and backing of the United States."

Trump cited what he described as victory over Islamic State militants in Syria as warranting the U.S. withdrawal.  Israel has long tried to persuade Washington that Iran and its Shi'ite Muslim militias, sent to reinforce Damascus, pose the greater threat.

"Daesh (Islamic State) has indeed been defeated in Syria, and this is greatly thanks to America," Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a member of Netanyahu's security cabinet, said in a statement to Reuters.

But Israel is naturally concerned that Iran will be emboldened:

Some Israeli officials have said U.S. President Donald Trump's move, announced on Wednesday, could help Iran by removing a U.S. garrison that stems the movement of Iranian forces and weaponry into Syria from Iraq.

Israel also worries that its main ally's exit could reduce its diplomatic leverage with Russia, the Syrian government's big-power backer.

Israel is most concerned with Iran's efforts to establish a land bridge through Iraq (de facto handed over to Iran as a Shiite ally by the naïve insistence on popular democracy and Obama's pullout of U.S. forces many times the size of the U.S. forces in Syria).  But Israel now has Saudi Arabia and the UAE, armed with the latest weapons form the U.S. arsenal (as is Israel), as allies with a huge interest in preventing this.  

Of course, there are risks.  U.S. forces are no longer serving as "tripwire" hostages, so Iran may be emboldened.  But is that the best use of American lives – especially the lives of our voluntary military forces?  Young Americans sign up to defend the United States, not to serve as hostages.   

The "bipartisan foreign policy establishment" absolutely hates Trump's withdrawal, based on the consensus that the USA must sacrifice blood and treasure wherever evildoers threaten the peace.  This consensus was forged in the wake of World War II, when the U.S. alone had the wherewithal to stand up and militarily act to guarantee the freedom of our allies and innocent countries under threat.  At that historical moment, it was communism that was aggressively expanding its domains.  In today's world, violent jihad and China (along with its semi-vassal state North Korea) are the premier threats.  But the U.S. is no longer the sole economic colossus able to stanch the tide of tyranny.

President Trump is in the process of adjusting U.S. foreign policy to the era in which the U.S. is a global economic competitor hobbled by our role as defender of free nations, who get to freeload.  This is an unmistakable necessity, for we are locked into an economic decline relative to our competitors if we bear a vastly disproportionate burden of defense.

I share some of the concerns of the critics of the withdrawal, but I also appreciate how necessary it is to protect our own most vital interests and to persuade or force our allies to bear an appropriate share of the burden.

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