President Trump's strategic decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria creates some significant fallout. The U.S. and international borg is enraged that Trump ends an occupation that is illegal under international as well as U.S. domestic law. "That's un-American!"
Defense Secretary James "Mad Dog" Mattis resigned from his position effective February 28. He disagreed with the president's decision. It was the second time in five years that an elected commander in chief had a serious conflict with Mattis' hawkishness. President Obama fired him as Central Command chief for urging a more aggressive Iran policy. Mattis is also extremely hawkish towards Russia and China.
President Trump campaigned on lessening U.S. involvement in wars abroad. He wants to get reelected. He does not need a Secretary of Defense that involves him in more wars that have little to none defined purpose.
Mattis is an ingrained imperialist. He always asked for more money for the military and for more meddling abroad. One of Mattis' little notice acts as Defense Secretary was a unannounced change in the mission of the Pentagon:
For at least two decades, the Department of Defense has explicitly defined its mission on its website as providing "the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country." But earlier this year, it quietly changed that statement, perhaps suggesting a more ominous approach to national security/..
The Pentagon's official website now defines its mission this way: "The mission of the Department of Defense is to provide a lethal Joint Force to defend the security of our country and sustain American influence abroad."
The Pentagon no longer "deters war" but provides "lethal force" to "sustain American influence abroad." There was no public nor congressional debate about the change. I doubt that President Trump agreed to it. Trump will now try to recruit a defense secretary that is more aligned with his own position.
The White House also announced that 7,000 of the 14,000 soldier the U.S. has in Afghanistan will withdraw over the next few months. The war in Afghanistan is lost with the Taliban ruling over more than half of the country and the U.S. supported government forces losing more personal than they can recruit. It was Mattis who had urged Trump to increase the troop numbers in Afghanistan from 10,000 to 14,000 at the beginning of his term. There are also 8,000 NATO and allied troops in Afghanistan which will likely see a proportional withdrawal.
The Associated Press has a new tic toc of Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria:
Trump stunned his Cabinet, lawmakers and much of the world with the move by rejecting the advice of his top aides and agreeing to a withdrawal in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week, two officials briefed on the matter said…
“The talking points were very firm,” said one of the officials, explaining that Trump was advised to clearly oppose a Turkish incursion into northern Syria and suggest the U.S. and Turkey work together to address security concerns. “Everybody said push back and try to offer (Turkey) something that’s a small win, possibly holding territory on the border, something like that.”
Erdogan, though, quickly put Trump on the defensive, reminding him that he had repeatedly said the only reason for U.S. troops to be in Syria was to defeat the Islamic State and that the group had been 99 percent defeated. “Why are you still there?” the second official said Erdogan asked Trump, telling him that the Turks could deal with the remaining IS militants…
Erdogan’s point, Bolton was forced to admit, had been backed up by Mattis, Pompeo, U.S. special envoy for Syria Jim Jeffrey and special envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition Brett McGurk, who have said that IS retains only 1 percent of its territory, the officials said…
Bolton stressed, however, that the entire national security team agreed that victory over IS had to be enduring, which means more than taking away its territory.
Trump was not dissuaded, according to the officials, who said the president quickly capitulated by pledging to withdraw, shocking both Bolton and Erdogan.
Trump did not "capitulate". He always wanted to pull the U.S. troops out of Syria. He said so many times. When he was finally given a chance to do so, he grabbed the opportunity. Erdogan though, was not ready for that:
Caught off guard, Erdogan cautioned Trump against a hasty withdrawal, according to one official. While Turkey has made incursions into Syria in the past, it does not have the necessary forces mobilized on the border to move in and hold the large swaths of northeastern Syria where U.S. troops are positioned, the official said.
The call ended with Trump repeating to Erdogan that the U.S. would pull out, but offering no specifics on how it would be done, the officials said.
Erdogan had planned to only occupy a 10 miles deep strip along the Syrian-Turkish border. Some 15,000 Turkish controlled 'Syrian rebels' stand ready for that. He would need some 50-100,000 troops to occupy all of east Syria northward of the Euphrates. It would be a hostile occupation among well armed Kurds who would oppose it and an Arab population that is not exactly friendly towards a neo-Ottoman Turkey.
Erdogan knows this well. Today he announced to delay the planned invasion:
“We had decided last week to launch a military incursion… east of the Euphrates river,” he said in a speech in Istanbul. “Our phone call with President Trump, along with contacts between our diplomats and security officials and statements by the United States, have led us to wait a little longer.
“We have postponed our military operation against the east of the Euphrates river until we see on the ground the result of America’s decision to withdraw from Syria.”
The Turkish president said, however, that this was not an “open-ended waiting period”.
Any larger occupation of northeast Syria would create a serious mess for Turkey. Its army can do it, but it would cost a lot of casualties and financial resources. Turkey will hold local government election in March and Erdogan does not want any negative headlines. He will invade, but only if Syria and Russia fail to get the Kurds under control.
Unfortunately the leaders of the anarcho-marxist PKK/YPK in Syria have still not learned their lesson. They make the same demands to Damascus that were already rejected when similar demands were made for Afrin canton before Turkey invaded and destroyed it.
agitpapa @agitpapa 11:14 utc – 21 Dec 2018
YPG delegation was flown in to Mezzeh yday. Negos were inconclusive because they just repeated their usual line of "SAA protects the border, we control the rest." No army allows someone else allied with an enemy to control its rear and its supply lines. +
+ The YPG leadership is still stuck in its pro-Western rut. It needs to be purged before any deal can be made with Damascus. Their present track will just lead to another Afrin, then another, then another. Thousands of brave YPG/YPJ fighters will have died for nothing.
Elijah J. Magnier @ejmalrai – 16:31 utc – 21 Dec 2018
#Breakingnews: Private sources : President Bashar al Assad has rejected the Kurdish proposal while Turkey is gathering forces (Euphrates Shield et al) to attack the Kurdish controlled area north of #Syria. #Russia seems holding back president Erdogan for a while. A lot of pressure
It is not (only) Russia that is holding Erdogan back. As seen above he has serious concerns about such an operation. Moreover, he does not have enough troops yet and the U.S. troops have not yet changed their pattern. As of today they still patrolled on the Turkish border and yesterday new U.S. war material was still coming in from Iraq. Erdogan does not dare to attack U.S. troops.
He will most likely want to avoid any additional military involvement in Syria. If Damascus and Moscow can get the PKK under control, Ankara will be satisfied.
Besides the presence of 4,000 to 5,000 U.S. troops and contractors in northeast Syria there also a contingent of 1,100 French troops and an unknown number of British forces. France for now says it wants to stay to finish the fight against the Islamic State enclave along the Euphrates.
But France does not have the capability to sustain those forces without U.S. support. Syria and Russia could ask Macron to put them under their command to finish the fight against ISIS, but it is doubtful that President Macron would agree to that. It is more likely that he will agree to a handover of their position to Russian, Syrian or even Iraqi or Iranian forces. Those forces can then finish the fight.