The Corner


Our Orwellian Syria Policy

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) celebrate the first anniversary of Raqqa province liberation from ISIS, in Raqqa, Syria, October 27, 2018. (Aboud Hamam/REUTERS)

The New York Times reports:

The White House said on Thursday that it planned to leave about 200 American troops in Syria, signaling a partial retreat from President Trump’s  announcement in December  that he would withdraw all 2,000 forces after what he described as a victory over the Islamic State.

It’s an astonishing sentence, really. 

In December, Donald Trump announced a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. Our troops were there without congressional authorization. Having already licked ISIS, they were there for a mission that never even had popular support: putting our thumb on the scale of the Syrian civil war, ahead of anticipated peace talks. 

Lots of chatter in January suggested that the generals, and various foreign-policy advisors were redesigning Trump’s withdrawal in such a way that our men at arms would continue the same mission but from different positions, perhaps from within Iraq. 

Now we have an announcement that we’re not completely withdrawing, only 90 percent. A “small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for a period of time,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders. What is peacekeeping in this instance? American soldiers will provide “logistics, intelligence and surveillance to allies and would relay necessary information for directing airstrikes to targets.” These are the actions of an active belligerent, not a peacekeeper. 

In other words, America will still be part of the Syrian civil war. I’m struck not only by the Orwellian redefinition of peacekeeping, but the implicit Orwellian redefinition of America First: Doing what Sunni fanatics and Kurdish communists want is now America First. 

Who is in charge, exactly? Congress has not authorized our continuing presence in this fight.  Why? Because the policy that Congress desired in Syria was desperately unpopular. But I don’t get the sense that Trump is in charge either. What’s the point of an imperial presidency, if the president himself just gets pushed into doing the opposite of what he ordered? He announces a policy, and tweets about it. Then after a period of internal rancor, “The White House” announces a contrary policy. 

Syria hawks have their reasons for wanting a continued U.S. presence there. I disagree with them. My questions for them are simple: Is this mission more vital than restoring America’s constitutional division of powers? Maybe you think that ship sailed with the War Powers Act. Fine. Are you willing to keep watching the connection between the commander-in-chief’s policies and the military realities severed?

Whose regime is being changed? 

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