US air strikes in Syria continue in support of Kurds
According to his critics, President Trump is abandoning the Kurds in Syria, yet another betrayal by America of its allies in an extended conflict (see pro-American South Vietnamese, Hmong in Laos, pro-Americans in Iraq for starters). But I have to wonder if American ground forces are the best or even the only way to effectively support our allies in a nation undergoing a civil war.
President Trump obviously does not think so. This report from Kurdistan 24 informs us that American support has not vanished, but rather has focused on the air:
The US-led coalition on Tuesday said it continued to support the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with "precision airstrikes and coordinated fires."
American officials told Reuters earlier that US President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw troops from Syria was also expected to signify an end to the US air campaign against the Islamic State (IS) there.
However, a final decision has not been made. And one US official told Reuters that he did not rule out "some kind of support for partners and allies." In the meantime, France has said it would continue to fight IS in Syria.
Reports indicate that until now, US coalition airstrikes continue.
File photo of U.S. F15s over Syria (photo credit: Senior Airman Matthew Bruch).
I take from this report that once again, President Trump is negotiating. With France, which has its own strategic and historical reasons for being concerned with the situation in Syria – far deeper ties than the U.S. enjoys, in fact. Undoubtedly with Turkey, our NATO ally that is battling its own Kurdish separatism at home, and which does not want the Syrian Kurds to achieve any kind of independence from the Damascus regime, which is supported by Russia and Iran.
Almost certainly, Russia is involved in the negotiations as well. That nation has in essence helped the Assad regime win its civil war and has a variety of prizes, including an air base and naval station in Syria. These permanent facilities altering the Middle East balance of forces are a fait accompli from the Obama administration's mishandling of Syria with its "red line" threat over the use of chemical weapons that became a laughingstock when not backed up with the assertion of power. That is the reality handed to Trump.
He has already ordered an air strike that killed "hundreds" of Russians fighting as contractors/mercenaries, not regular uniformed troops, so the Russians know that the U.S. has the means and the will to fight back should an unspoken Trump red line be crossed.
While Iran is feared to be able to take advantage of the U.S. withdrawal and grab territory enabling it to establish a land bridge to Hezb'allah fighters in Lebanon, President Trump has reversed the Obama administration's coddling of Iran, including the shipment of huge amounts of cash to it, and re-oriented U.S. policy in support of Saudi Arabia, which has a vital national interest in preventing Iranian dominance of the region.
In other words, the situation is a complex balance of national interests, with most of the parties holding multiple goals that sometimes conflict with and sometimes intersect with American interests. This is the sort of situation analogized to three-dimensional chess.
And that's even before Afghanistan is placed on the chessboard, where it belongs because Trump has also promised a withdrawal of forces from that nation. For good reason, Afghanistan has proven itself to be "the graveyard of empires," whose attempts to pacify and rule the rugged tribes there have never worked out well – for Persians, the British, Soviets, and now Americans. It is hard to see an enduring American troop presence there as having any prospect of success in "nation-building" in the graveyard of empires.
President Trump is seeking a new approach that leaves the ground fighting to those who have a more direct interest than we do. That would include the Saudis; the French on one side; and the Russians and Turks, both of whom have interests that conflict with, but occasionally overlap with, our own.
There has never been a perfect solution to the problems of the Middle East, which are grounded in ancient history. I see President Trump as seeking to minimize the costs in blood and treasure that America must bear, while seeking an outcome that is non-catastrophic, and maybe even better than what exists under the current strategy.
As for our friends, the Kurds, their quest for a nation of their own is both righteous and longstanding. They will not get a Kurdistan of their own until Turkey, Syria, and Iran are ready to concede it to them. That is not going to happen anytime soon, and the sort of catastrophic outcome that would unlock those nations' resistance would not be pretty, to say the least.
Negotiating our way through this minefield is not easy, but a new approach is worth a try.