President Donald Trump proved last week that he is not about to stand by and watch an evil dictator gas his own people with chemical weapons, but he has not changed his mind about the bottom line in Syria: We need to extract ourselves from this civil war and leave the fighting to those who have a claim on the land.
Clearly, neither Trump nor anyone else in the West is thrilled about leaving Bashar al-Assad in charge, but he has learned an important lesson from America’s recent Middle Eastern history. Intervention is one thing. Retaliation is one thing. World policing and regime toppling is a whole ‘nother ball of wax. And with Islamist groups crawling all over Syria, it’s hard to be sure that whichever government replaces Assad would be any more “democratic” than his.
So it is that the Trump administration is looking for a way out. ISIS has been decimated, wrapping up the U.S.’s prime reason for being in the region in the first place. And while it’s not ideal to leave Iran and Russia to divide Syria’s spoils up however they see fit, there comes a time when enough is enough. Our military can’t be everywhere at once. Trump campaigned as hard against the Iraq War as any Democrat; his supporters are counting on him to prove that he hasn’t been co-opted by the national security establishment on either side of the political divide.
The tentative plan, according to U.S. officials, is to raise an Arab army from Syria’s neighbors. These soldiers would ultimately take over for U.S. troops and help stabilize those parts of the country that have been freed from Islamic State rule. National Security Advisor John Bolton has reportedly been in talks with Egypt about Cairo sending troops to join the effort. The administration has also asked Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar to chip in money for the reconstruction effort in Syria.
“We have asked our partners to take greater responsibility for securing their home region, including contributing larger amounts of money,” President Trump said in a statement on Friday.
Unfortunately, it’s not clear if the administration will be able to lean on our Arab allies in such a way that will actually produce the intended results. President Trump has forged a closer relationship with Saudi Arabia than previous presidents, so there’s a possibility of getting something done there. But as far as Egypt goes, prospects are dim. They’ve got a war against terrorism going on two significant fronts; they are unlikely to see much profit in sending troops to Syria. Furthermore, there’s reason to doubt that Egyptian soldiers are fit to replace up to 2,000 American troops, even if they were available.
It’s a hopeful sign that President Trump is still working on a plan to bring our boys home; circumstances being what they are, though, it may be an easier plan to talk about than to actually implement.