The Corner

World

Trump’s Decision to Leave a Token Force in Syria Is More Significant Than You Think

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with China’s Vice Premier Liu He in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, D.C., February 22, 2019. (Carlos Barria/REUTERS)

It looks like Donald Trump has changed his mind again. The White House announced yesterday that the U.S. would leave “a small peacekeeping group” of roughly 200 soldiers in Syria even after the bulk of American forces withdraw. They’ll be roughly evenly split between a base in northeast Syria and a base in southeast Syria.

The number isn’t large (let’s call them the “Trump 200”), but their significance far exceeds their numbers. First, the presence of American soldiers will act as a profound deterrent to American enemies and to those who wish to destroy American allies. While a small American force may not have significant combat power on its own, it can call on immense firepower if in distress, and the very act of attacking American troops on the ground  would trigger a much larger confrontation. Even this small presence should grant the American people at least a degree of hope that we do not intend to either squander hard-won battlefield gains or abandon allies who paid for those gains in blood.

Second, even small American deployments facilitate continued involvement by our powerful European allies. As Reuters’ Steve Holland and Idrees Ali explained:

Leaving even a small group of U.S. troops in Syria could pave the way for European allies to commit hundreds of troops to help set up and observe a potential safe zone in northeast Syria.” Previously, “European allies have balked at providing troops unless they received a firm commitment that Washington was still committed to the region.

If these allies come through, then the total western force could reach as many as 1,000 or 1,500 troops — creating an even more effective deterrent shield and leaving ISIS with less ability to recreate safe havens. Critically, it will help prevent Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime from gaining more power at the expense of American credibility and influence.

Advocates of American withdrawal sometimes fail to understand how few troops it often takes to secure American gains — or at least to prevent catastrophic losses. When Obama decided to pull out all American troops in Iraq, for example, he was deciding against leaving a relatively small force behind (small certainly compared to the large deployments at the height of the Iraq War), but it was a force more than strong enough to stop the ISIS blitzkrieg in 2014.

If Trump’s 200 can reassure American allies, incentivize allied deployments, and help keep a military boot on ISIS’s neck, then it will be one of the more cost-effective and wise decisions of his presidency. Trump’s mercurial nature is often a liability. When he changes his mind to reverse a mistake, it’s an asset. Let’s hope he doesn’t change his mind again.

Something to Consider

If you enjoyed this article, we have a proposition for you: Join NRPLUS. Members get all of our content (including the magazine), no paywalls or content meters, an advertising-minimal experience, and unique access to our writers and editors (conference calls, social-media groups, etc.). And importantly, NRPLUS members help keep NR going. Consider it?

If you enjoyed this article, and were stimulated by its contents, we have a proposition for you: Join NRPLUS.

LEARN MORE

Most Popular

Elections

What Do Republican Voters Want?

The latest entry in the post-Trump conservatism sweepstakes was Marco Rubio’s speech at the Catholic University of America in early November. The Florida senator made the case for a “common-good capitalism” that looks on markets in the light of Catholic social thought. “We must remember that our nation ... Read More
Books

The Houellebecqian Moment

We are living in the imagination of Michel Houellebecq. The bête noire of French literature has spent decades deploring the erosion of Western mores that he believes resulted from the sexual revolution of the 1960s. His last novel, Submission, revolved around the election of a theocratic Muslim to the French ... Read More
Culture

‘Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself’

It was just one more segment to fill out the hour, and thereby fill the long 24 hours of Saturday’s cable news on November 2. Or so it seemed. Navy SEAL Mike Ritland was on the Fox News program Watters World to talk to Jesse Watters about trained German shepherds like the one used in the raid that found ... Read More
Sports

The Kaepernick Saga Drags On . . . off the Field

Colin Kaepernick’s workout for NFL teams in Atlanta this weekend did not run smoothly. The league announced an invitation to scouts from every team to watch Kaepernick work out and demonstrate that he was still ready to play. (As noted last week, the workout is oddly timed; the NFL season is just a bit past its ... Read More