Yes, it’s complicated. You have the Syrian rebels fighting a seemingly endless (and possibly un-winnable) civil war against the wholly corrupt dictator, Bashar al-Assad. Why is that important? Well, we could go back in time, but it probably suffices to simply remember President Obama’s famous “red line” that he drew in 2012. You see, that is when Mr. Obama told the world he would not tolerate the Syrian tyrant’s chemical attacks on his own people. What the O-man also knew that Syria was looking the other way as ISIS built a major power base on the norther border, and threatened the Kurdish people living there. So the President famously drew his red line in the sand, and told the world these aggressions would not stand. This is great stuff, right? The only problem is that these aggressions not only were allowed to stand, but they prospered.
Two things happened, and we haven’t even begun to determine the long term damage American interests will suffer. First, Bashar al-Assad realized he was dealing with a lightweight, so he immediately doubled down on his flirtation with Vladimir Putin. Mr. Putin gladly responded to Syria’s overtures and moved in to support the Assad regime’s murderous campaign against its own people. There are those who say “so what?”. The United States had enjoyed more than three decades of middle eastern influence without any serious Russian intervention. Waffling on the red line opened the door for the Russians to re-enter the Middle East, and folks, that is a big deal.
Why did Mr. Obama capitulate? This author is sure there will be countless histories written, but no one will convince me that there was not a direct correlation between this flip-flop and Iran putting pressure on the US. What, say again? Yes, you see this was also the time that the Obama administration desperately sought to achieve a pact with Iran to slow down the prospect of nuclear proliferation. Slow down, mind you; not eliminate. So while also sending billions to Iran, it is entirely conceivable that the White House was also pressured to back off its position regarding the Assad administration. Iran and Syria are allies. Ergo, the second thing that happened, and it is far more insidious. Bingo!
With it being politically expedient to put Syria on the back burner, Americans saw a shift to the growing ISIS threat, and the alliance between our troops and the Kurdish rebels. The Kurds are dissidents from Turkey, who moved into northern Iraq and Syria over the past four decades in an attempt to free themselves from Turkish oppression. Their plight is not much different than that of the Syrian rebels. They have been hunted down and killed by various Turkish leaders since the late 1970’s. The US troops and Kurdish rebels made a formidable team. In the space of five years, they tore the heart out of ISIS and reclaimed lands stolen from previous occupants. The presence of US troops also lent balance to the region. Turkish aggressors did not stray south to kill Kurds, the Russians stayed away, and the Syrian government forces did not venture north to attack Syrian rebels. Our presence was a huge force for stability. The only losers were ISIS. No tears shed there.
One more thing. Turkey is a NATO ally. With Turkey, which has been increasingly hostile to western culture under President Ergodan, we now walk that tightrope trying to coerce them not to slaughter our erstwhile Kurdish allies, while attempting to not push them toward Russia. It is volatile, and it is fraught with peril for American interests.
In five paragraphs, I have attempted to cut through the layers of complexity and give you a sense for why this region is very important to our interests. It is so easy to take the isolationist view. Clearly Mr. Trump has decided this region does not matter. He looks at it all as just “a lot of sand”, and he appears to have no issue with Russia assisting the Syrians as they look north to land once theirs that no longer has an American presence. Click here to see the President’s take on the situation.
While I put a lot of the blame on the Obama administration for its feckless foreign policy, I am, in this case, massively disappointed in President Trump. His simple approach to keeping his promise to “end all foreign wars” does a disservice to our reputation with our allies, and it sets the stage for Russia’s re-emergence in a volatile and strategically important part of the world. We will rue the present state of affairs. I just can’t tell you how or when.
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