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.
Trump is maintaining an indefinite US military presence in (ie, occupation of) Syria, strengthening a policy of bipartisan imperialism, in an attempt to weaken the Iranian and Syrian governmentshttps://t.co/4ey9A9XFO4
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) September 7, 2018
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."