Donald Trump’s decision to pull ground troops out of Syria, followed hard by Defense Secretary Mattis’ resignation effective January 1, has sparked the usual complaints about the unpredictable, shoot-from-the-hip president. And as usual, the most important issue underlying the debate over his decision is ignored––our failure to settle on a coherent, long-term foreign policy strategy.
Apart from the by now reflexive NeverTrump harrumphing, more sober commentators have made serious arguments both for staying and for leaving. The most compelling of the former are the risks of ceding more regional influence to Russia and Iran. Both of these rivals are solidifying their presence in the region, and neither is that serious about destroying ISIS, which still boasts thousands of jihadists intent on wreaking havoc on Western infidels. The terrorist gang Hezbollah, for forty years Iran’s creature, likewise will continue to control territory from which it threatens Israel with missiles supplied via the Iranian Quds Force personnel stationed in Syria. And our allies the Kurds, who have been stalwart warriors against ISIS, will be left hanging, vulnerable to the aggression of Islamist Turkey, which likewise does not consider ISIS a threat to eliminate.