The President of the United States has the absolute authority to decide when it’s time for our troops to withdraw from any conflict in which they are engaged. Congress must authorize the use of force, and appropriate money for the cause, but there’s little it can do to prevent the president from ending a military operation.
That is the situation in which we find ourselves today. At 9:29 am yesterday, the President tweeted, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” I have said repeatedly that tweets aren’t policy, but this particular tweet apparently accompanied proper policy direction.
Defense officials anonymously confirmed the news, and White House Spokesman Sarah Sanders said in a statement, “These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign. We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign.”
is this a good idea?
Wednesday evening, the President posted a video, where he again proclaims victory. There’s just one little problem: ISIS isn’t defeated. They’re badly damaged, for sure, but we have not eradicated them. And like any infestation, the ones who survive are the really resilient ones, who go on to establish a new, equally resilient strain. Listening to the President’s proclamation, I couldn’t help but think of President George W. Bush landing on the USS Lincoln to address the assembled sailors in front of that infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner.
In a very narrow sense, the mission in Iraq had been accomplished. We had defeated the Iraqi Army and removed Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath Party from power. But critically, we hadn’t won the peace. We hadn’t even thought about winning the peace. The same holds true for Syria.
U.S. moves in syria bleed into Turkey
Turkey’s President Recep Erdoğan began his career as a modern incarnation of Kamal Ataturk—a secular Turkish nationalist leader intent on building a modern, secular state. But as the years have passed, Erdoğan, an authoritarian at heart, has seen the power that Islamism can wield. And he’s wielded it to his own benefit. The irony of the whole Jamal Khashoggi debacle is that it happened in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Erdoğan’s crocodile tears over Khashoggi’s murder hide the fact that he’s no friend of the free press, having jailed at least 120 journalists since a 2016 attempted coup.
But for better or worse, Turkey is still a NATO ally, and a key partner in the expensive F-35 fighter program. They also were flirting with Russia, considering a purchase of the S-400 anti-aircraft/anti-missile system. The presence of a Russian-built air defense system in Turkey would have seriously jeopardized not only the F-35 program, but perhaps the integrity of NATO’s entire air defense system.
Lost in the furor over the Syria decision is the fact that on Tuesday the State Department approved the sale of “eighty (80) Patriot MIM-104E Guidance Enhanced Missiles (GEM-T) missiles, sixty (60) PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) missiles and related equipment for an estimated cost of $3.5 billion.” Congress still has to approve the deal, but there’s not much of a chance they’ll say no. It’s one thing for Russian missiles to be in the Saudis’ hands (which was almost an option), but it’s quite another for them to be in the arsenal of a NATO member.
Anyone who reads this column regularly knows that I’m an unabashed cheerleader for the military-industrial complex. America’s defense industry is second-to-none, building the finest, most sophisticated weapons systems in the world. The export of those weapons systems is an important part of American foreign policy. But in this case, it just seems too cynical.
It seems like we’ve given the Turks enough free rein to crack down on the very people who stood beside us against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The tradeoff simply isn’t worth it.