There are many aspects for us to consider regarding the announcement that the US is withdrawing its troops from Syria. There is no need to discuss Donald Trump's fluctuating positions on Syria, which have gone from rejecting any intervention to strengthening US forces and threatening the Syrian regime and then announcing the intention to withdraw. The man who runs his politics through Twitter does not have a stable opinion.
This is the most important dimension of the latest announcement, as we are dealing with a unique president, even by US standards. He is someone who does not listen to the assessments of his security agencies; he runs his policies on a day-to-day basis according to his personal opinions rather than those of his senior advisors.
This latest example of his disconnect from those around him reveals the extent of the differences between Trump and US security and military institutions, as well as senior politicians and officials. This is evidenced by the resignation of the Secretary of Defence.
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The troop withdrawal announcement is not a marginal issue. It raises fundamental questions about the management of political affairs in the US. It also brings back the question of the fate of Trump himself, given his involvement with the deep state and in light of the investigations conducted by the head of the Special Counsel investigation, Robert Mueller.
What is both interesting and remarkable is Trump's apparently impressive services to Russia and this strange agreement between him and Putin. This raises further questions that Mueller may be following up on in the case of alleged Russian intervention in US affairs. This may also raise other doubts about the secret behind this weird relationship, especially because everyone knows that Russia, along with China, poses the greatest strategic threat to US hegemony.
The other thing to be considered is whether the troop withdrawal order will actually be carried out or if is it merely an announcement made in passing that is just waiting to be abandoned. We may see a partial withdrawal or a full withdrawal over a long period of time. Or, indeed, we may simply see the US finding other ways to intervene in Syria without direct military involvement.
There is no doubt that the domestic rejection of the decision, along with a similar response from major allies like Britain, as well as that of Russia, makes the latter a likely possibility. It is also possible, though, that the withdrawal announcement was meant as a threat to some of the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, to fund the US presence in Syria and perhaps even pay more in order to maintain it in full.
What about Israel's position? Netanyahu's rejection of any withdrawal of US troops from Israel's neighbour may lead to the move being abandoned, especially since Trump adjusts his steps in the Middle East in line with Israeli "security concerns" more than anything else. He has done this either for the sake of his Evangelical support base or for the pro-Israel lobby that provides him with important political protection.
If it goes ahead, the withdrawal of US troops from Syria could represent an important gain for Russia and Iran, and perhaps even Turkey, if it manages the scenario well after its implementation. Ankara's US-supported Kurdish enemies will be left without cover, and so any claim that the absence of American troops will mean the end of the Syrian conflict is premature.
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The regime in Damascus has millions of dissidents at home and abroad but cannot feel stable or secure in this violent time unless it convinces the majority of the Syrian people to give it their support. This will not happen without formal changes in the nature of the sectarian security system. We must also take into account the matter of reconstructing a country that has been almost completely destroyed; nor can Russian-Iranian involvement and Israel's presence on the border be ignored. Whichever way we look at it, whether or not US troop withdrawal actually happens, we are nowhere nearer to a satisfactory conclusion to the conflict in Syria.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Arab on 26 December 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.