Saturday, October 19, 2019

Searing Moment in the Middle East

For the record, I'm not pleased with President Trump's handling of Syria and Turkey this past week or so. Not pleased at all. Yeah, I can dig the current public sentiment to wind things down, and end "regime change wars," but previous commitments should be honored and our dealings with allies should be respectful and up and up. It's especially disgraceful to cough up territory and control in places Americans have shed blood, to say nothing of fierce fighters like the Kurds.

Oh well.

At WaPo, "The hasty U.S. pullback from Syria is a searing moment in America’s withdrawal from the Middle East":

BEIRUT — The blow to America’s standing in the Middle East was sudden and unexpectedly swift. Within the space of a few hours, advances by Turkish troops in Syria this week had compelled the U.S. military’s Syrian Kurdish allies to switch sides, unraveled years of U.S. Syria policy and recalibrated the balance of power in the Middle East.

As Russian and Syrian troops roll into vacated towns and U.S. bases, the winners are counting the spoils.

The withdrawal delivered a huge victory to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who won back control of an area roughly amounting to a third of the country almost overnight. It affirmed Moscow as the arbiter of Syria’s fate and the rising power in the Middle East. It sent another signal to Iran that Washington has no appetite for the kind of confrontation that its rhetoric suggests and that Iran’s expanded influence in Syria is now likely to go unchallenged.

It sent a message to the wider world that the United States is in the process of a disengagement that could resonate beyond the Middle East, said Hussein Ibish of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

“There’s a sense that the long goodbye has begun and that the long goodbye from the Middle East could become a long goodbye from Asia and everywhere else,” he said.

Images shared on social media underscored the indignity of the retreat. Departing U.S. troops in sophisticated armored vehicles passed Syrian army soldiers riding in open-top trucks on a desert highway. An embedded Russian journalist took selfies on the abandoned U.S. base in Manbij, where U.S. forces had fought alongside their Kurdish allies to drive out the Islamic State in 2015.

“Only yesterday they were here, and now we are here,” said the journalist, panning the camera around the intact infrastructure, including a radio tower and a button-powered traffic-control gate that he showed was still functioning.

“Let’s see how they lived and what they ate,” he said, before ducking into one of the tents and filming the soldiers’ discarded snacks.

On Arab news channels, coverage switched from footage of jubilant Syrian troops to scenes of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s lavish receptions by the monarchs of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Washington’s most vital Arab allies in the Persian Gulf. The visits had been long planned, but the timing gave them the feel of a victory lap.

“This has left a bad taste for all of America’s friends and allies in the region, not only among the Kurds,” said a former regional minister who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to not embarrass his government, an American ally. “Many will now be looking for new friends. The Russians don’t abandon their allies. They fight for them. And so do the Iranians.”

It was the manner of the withdrawal, hastily called amid chaos on the battlefield as Turkish forces pushed deep into Syria, that gave the event such impact in the region, analysts said. Few had anticipated that the most advanced military in the world would make such a scrambled and hasty departure, even after President Trump signaled he would not endorse a war on behalf of the Kurds against a U.S. NATO ally.

Less than 48 hours before the withdrawal announcement, U.S. Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had given assurances that the troops would remain indefinitely, standing by their Kurdish partners to continue to hunt down the Islamic State.

 But the Turks’ capture Sunday of a key highway that served as the U.S. troops’ main supply line revealed the fragility of a mission that had narrowly focused on the Islamic State fight while neglecting regional dynamics, including the depth of Turkish animosity to the Kurdish militia with which the United States had teamed up...
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