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America First Puts Syria Last

The US withdrawal from Syria amounts to a premature declaration of victory – and thus fits a familiar pattern for many of America’s engagements in the world. But this departure is more notable – and may be more damaging – than most, because it is being ordered by a president who clearly has no idea what he is doing.

DENVER – No Middle East conflict is as complex as the one raging in Syria. The fight involves a government that is antithetical to Western values and a Sunni extremist insurgency that at one point captured the borderlands between Syria and Iraq and fought all the way to the gates of Baghdad. The stakes of the war are so high that a varied cast of foreign actors – including Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Hezbollah – have all been drawn in.

But there are actually numerous wars being fought in Syria. One struggle, waged against the Islamic State (ISIS), is well known to the American public. Less understood is the war to succeed the House of Assad, which has ruled the country as a secular dynasty for almost 50 years. A third conflict involves northern Syria’s Kurds, who joined with the United States to fight ISIS but whose efforts have stoked fear among Turkish leaders that the aspirations of Syria’s Kurdish population could embolden the Kurds in Turkey.

Now add to this many-sided conflict a US president who is uncomfortable with nuance or detail. Donald Trump neither possesses an internationalist mindset nor grasps the message that American power conveys. But while Trump could have been forgiven for arguing that America’s only interest in Syria was the defeat of ISIS, his recent decision to withdraw all US forces – which he justified with an erroneous declaration of victory – is inexcusable.

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