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It will take decades to recover from Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria, Mason expert says

October 17, 2019

Richard Kauzlarich

President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria and abandon Kurdish allies in October has done profound damage to U.S. interests in the Middle East and beyond that will take decades to recover from, said Mason distinguished visiting professor and former U.S. ambassador Richard Kauzlarich.

“The atrocities being committed against innocent women and children have undone years of hard work to establish the partnership necessary to defeat ISIS in the region,” Kauzlarich said. “Now other allies in other parts of the world will ask, ‘Are we next?’”

According to USA Today, Turkey’s incursion has unleashed a free-for-all inside Syria, with Russia, Iran and other powers competing for influence, and civilians being killed in the process. While Trump gave the green light for Turkey to invade by removing U.S. troops, the president said on Oct. 16 that the crisis in Syria is “not our problem.”

“This is our problem for two reasons,” Kauzlarich said. “Turkey is a NATO ally who has stood with us from the Korean War to the Balkans, and second, the Kurds have fought and died alongside our soldiers in defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

“We need both Turks and Kurds working with us to deal with the terrorist threat from ISIS and blunt Iranian and Russian influence in Syria,” Kauzlarich said. “If the conflict continues to escalate, not only will it involve Turkey, but Iraq and possibly Iran.”

Globally speaking, there is now no one to stop ISIS from making an even stronger comeback, Kauzlarich said.

“By abandoning the Kurds, we lost any standing to mediate between them and the Turks,” Kauzlarich said. “The mindless sanctions that Trump applied against Ankara before the Pence/Pompeo visit undercuts any leverage the United States might have with the Turks.”

Pompeo said the goal of Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to Ankara on Oct. 17 was a U.S.-brokered ceasefire, but achieving this goal under the current conditions is unlikely, Kauzlarich said.

While Pence announced that the Turks agreed to a 120-hour ceasefire, Kauzlarich echoed Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu in saying, “Pause in Turkey’s operation in Syria is not a cease-fire, cease-fire can only happen between two legitimate sides.”

“In my nearly 40 years of service as a Foreign Service Officer and a Senior Intelligence Officer, I never experienced the fall in U.S. influence that these…developments represent,” Kauzlarich said.

Richard Kauzlarich can be reached at rkauzlar@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Mariam Aburdeineh at 703-993-9518 or maburdei@gmu.edu.

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