Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Thick smoke from an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition rises in Kobani, Syria, as seen from a hilltop on the outskirts of Suruc, at the Turkey-Syria border. (Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

'Mission Creep' Confirmed as Trump Replaces Vow to Withdraw From Syria With Embrace of Indefinite Military Presence

"Trump is maintaining an indefinite U.S. military presence in (i.e., occupation of) Syria, strengthening a policy of bipartisan imperialism, in an attempt to weaken the Iranian and Syrian governments."

Jake Johnson

Just months after proclaiming to the American public that U.S. soldiers will completely withdraw from Syria "very soon," President Donald Trump has reportedly agreed to a new strategy under which the more than 2,000 troops currently occupying the war-torn nation will remain "indefinitely."

"We have to force the United States to leave."
—Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

"The new policy is we're no longer pulling out by the end of the year," James Jeffrey, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's representative for Syria engagement, told the Washington Post on Thursday. "That means we are not in a hurry."

To justify keeping American troops in Syria for an "indefinite" period of time, the Trump administration's new strategy redefines U.S. "objectives" in the country from "defeating ISIS" to ejecting all Iranian military forces and proxies from the country—despite the fact that Iran's presence in Syria, unlike America's, is at the invitation of the Syrian government.

In addition to attempting to expel Iranian forces, the Trump administration's new "strategy" in Syria will also consist of the "establishment of a stable, nonthreatening government acceptable to all Syrians and the international community," notes the Post.

While such an objective smacks of regime change, Jeffrey told the Post that U.S. policy is not that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "must go."

"Assad has no future, but it's not our job to get rid of him," Jeffrey declared.

While Trump has not publicly called for regime change in Syria, Bob Woodward reports in his new book—citing "deep background" interviews with top administration officials—that the president last year ordered Defense Secretary James Mattis to "go in" to Syria and "fucking kill" Assad.

Trump's embrace of endless war in Syria was revealed just hours ahead of a high-stakes summit in Tehran on Friday between the presidents of Iran, Russia, and Turkey.

In remarks at the start of the meeting, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani demanded that American forces immediately withdraw from Syria if lasting peace is to be achieved.

"We have to force the United States to leave," Rouhani declared.

Rouhani's clear demand for American troops to completely exit Syria came just as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned during a U.N. Security Council meeting on Friday that Assad will face "dire consequences" if he launches an assault on Idlib province, one of the last areas controlled by Syrian rebels.

Further heightening the risk of dangerous escalation, the U.S. carried out a military exercise in southeastern Syria on Friday that, according to the military, included a "live-fire rehearsal" and an "aerial assault."

Progressive anti-war activists and commentators warned throughout the Obama years and during Trump's presidency that the U.S. strategy in Syria was a slippery slope that would inevitably lead to ever-increasing engagement in a complex conflict and fuel perpetual war.

In a Twitter thread breaking down the Trump administration's new Syria objectives on Friday, Emma Ashford—a foreign policy research fellow at the Cato Institute—argued that the White House's plan is "not a strategy."

"It's totally unrealistic. We might as well ask for a pet unicorn," Ashford concluded. "In short, the Trump administration appears poised to commit us to a costly, unnecessary years-long committment in Syria. Only the justification is different: rather than the idea of stabilization, it's the Iranian bogeyman. And the goals are so vague, mission creep is assured."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

DOJ Sues to Prevent Arizona's 'Onerous' Proof of Citizenship Voting Law

Assistant U.S. Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke said the law "constitutes a textbook violation of the National Voter Registration Act."

Brett Wilkins ·

House Progressives Urge Reforms to 'Hold These Rogue Justices to Account'

Recent rulings by the Supreme Court's right-wing majority have made clear the need for substantive changes, including expansion, argues Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

Kenny Stancil ·

'Win for Wildlife' as Federal Court Restores Endangered Species Protections Gutted by Trump

"In the midst of a global extinction crisis, the court's decision to vacate the rules will help ensure that imperiled species receive the protections they desperately need," said one advocate.

Julia Conley ·

Senate Urged to Block Biden's Pro-Privatization Nominee for Social Security Board

"The Senate can, and must, block this terrible nomination," Social Security Works said of the administration's choice of Andrew Biggs.

Jake Johnson ·

GOP Senator Defends Guantánamo Bay Prison as 'Absolutely Vital Institution'

Sen. James Inhofe's comments come as congressional Democrats are reviving efforts to close the notorious U.S. military prison.

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo