Trump’s Misguided Plan for ‘Stabilizing’ Syria

The Trump administration’s plan for Syria appears to be based on an awful lot of wishful thinking:

The Trump administration is seeking to assemble an Arab force to replace the U.S. military contingent in Syria and help stabilize the northeastern part of the country after the defeat of Islamic State, U.S. officials said.

John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, recently called Abbas Kamel, Egypt’s acting intelligence chief, to see if Cairo would contribute to the effort, officials said.

The initiative comes as the administration has asked Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to contribute billions of dollars to help restore northern Syria. It wants Arab nations to send troops as well, officials said.

The U.S. should remove its forces from Syria as quickly as possible, but it is fanciful to think that regional clients are going to put up the soldiers and funding to replace them. It is fitting that Bolton’s idea is little more than a revised version of something Rubio was proposing several years ago. Egypt’s military has enough of its own security problems at home, and it would be ill-suited to a foreign mission like this. For that matter, the current Egyptian government has expressed some support for the Syrian regime in the recent past, so it would be bizarre for them to occupy territory in order to deny Damascus control over it.

The Saudis and Emiratis remain bogged down in Yemen, and the Saudis in particular can’t afford another prolonged military mission abroad. I assume that this proposal would be a non-starter in both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Given how poorly the coalition has performed in Yemen, they would probably not be very effective in securing territory. It would be surprising if they were willing to offer more than a token amount of money to the effort. Qatar might very well provide some funding to win favor with Trump, but given the current rift between them and the other three states plus Bahrain I don’t see how they could work together effectively. The bigger problem is that all of these governments are responsible to one degree or another for contributing to Syria’s instability by arming and funding Islamist and jihadist groups. Putting them in charge of stabilization efforts in Syria is like putting the proverbial fox in charge of the chicken coop.

The Trump administration is going to great lengths to avoid the obvious solution, which is that the Syrian government should be the one to control Syrian territory. The refusal to accept this shows the degree to which Trump’s Syria policy is still as inflexible and ideological as any pursued by his predecessors. Trump should give up on trying to conjure up a new occupation force from unwilling governments and simply bring U.S. forces home as soon as possible.

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Author: Daniel Larison


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