Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The inevitable freakout about a withdrawal from Syria

The discussion that follows any proposal to withdraw U.S. forces from anywhere always depresses me. The default state should not be an endless war in some far-off land. Instead of having to convince everyone that ending American involvement is a good idea, that should be assumed and the burden should be on those who want to keep up the military mission to explain why there is a pressing need to not bring everyone home.

I can see that there are serious downsides to an American withdraw from Syria. This will give Turkey the green light to go after the Kurds, it will cede Syria to Russia (although that has already effectively happened), and will change all kinds of calculations about the balance of power in that convoluted conflict. You can acknowledge all of those points without answering the basic question: What is the U.S. accomplishing by not leaving? What way does staying accomplish? Protection of the Kurds from the Turks is potentially a real purpose, but that's not the actual mission and seems to be treated as more of a side effect than anything else. If that is the mission, then make it the mission. If it's not the mission, than tell us what it is so we can evaluate it on its own merits. Sending soldiers to kill people in other countries is an extreme decision that needs to be justified by a truly compelling reason. Unless a compelling reason can be articulated and justified, of course the U.S. should withdraw. And when considering whether a compelling case can be made keep in mind that for more than half a century, the involvement of U.S. forces has almost always made things worse, not better.