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How to make America great again

By Arnab Neil Sengupta 4/8/2018
US forces drive armoured vehicles near the northern Syrian village of Darbasiyah, on the border with Turkey on April 28, 2017. File photo: AFP
US forces drive armoured vehicles near the northern Syrian village of Darbasiyah, on the border with Turkey on April 28, 2017. File photo: AFP

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump said he was considering withdrawing American soldiers from Syria. It's actually past time for him to consider sending more troops and funds into that country.

The US contingent is deployed in the northern part of Syria, near the border with Turkey, as part of an international coalition battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group, or ISIS.

Northern Syria is admittedly not a place most Americans are familiar with, but this is where a joint Kurdish-Arab force, the SDF, backed by the coalition has been hunting down ISIS fighters and destroying their hideouts since 2013.

The early victories were covered heavily by the US press, but those events have started to fade from public memory now that the so-called Caliphate has, for all practical purposes, ceased to exist.

The disappearance of the military campaign from the 24-hour US news cycle, however, is hardly an accurate reflection of its relevance in the grand scheme of things.

The 25-30 percent of Syrian territory controlled by the Kurds and their Arab allies cannot overcome the ravages of the war on the strength of a 2,000-strong US military presence and a shaky White House commitment.

This swathe of Syria needs the unwavering support of the American people and their president because it faces existential threats from three sides: the Turks in the north, the Assad government in the south and ISIS remnants in their pockets.

Trump seems to know instinctively what to say to whip up a crowd of supporters. Imagine the high road he could take by narrating real tales of heroism from Syria and Iraq instead of rallying his base with tirades against unauthorised immigration and the "fake news" media.

Americans from across the political spectrum need to know there is an enclave of progressive culture and values in Syria heavily dependent on their generosity, and that the local forces keeping the peace there deserve US support for the long haul.

In the unlikely event that Trump changes tack and begins to brag about his support for the Kurds in Manbij instead of disparaging Hispanic migrants in California, his political opponents and critics could find themselves in a (pleasant moral) quandary.

But in the end, standing by a non-sectarian and tolerant population comprising Kurds, Arabs and other minorities in distant Syria is a cause that most certainly would unite Americans instead of polarise opinion.

On their own, the local politicians of northern Syria, including the area Syrian Kurds call Rojava, can do little to persuade Republican and Democratic politicians halfway around the globe to commit more American forces and unfreeze funds meant for recovery efforts.

For, these days the lobbying firms and advocacy groups of Washington's K Street are reportedly too busy cornering big chunks of the Qatar-GCC propaganda war market to do any pro-bono work.

To them, whether some American allies are guarding the ramparts in a remote corner of the Middle East presumably matters little as long as their own fat profits and bonuses are safe.

Nevertheless, ordinary Americans can do their own homework to appreciate the symbolic value of the Syrian territory under the SDF's control, the importance of thwarting the ambitions of Damascus and Ankara, and the urgency of rebuilding the area before young men lose hope altogether.

It reflects poorly on US trustworthiness that the SDF's political wing, SDC, is hedging its bets by tentatively reaching out to Bashar al-Assad's regime, as both have a common enemy in the Turks who took control of Afrin, a Kurdish town in Syria's northwest, with the help of allied local militias earlier this year.

The SDC officials know only too well that any agreement with Damascus on a "road-map for a democratic, decentralized Syria" would probably not be worth the paper it is written on. At the same time, they cannot totally avoid contact with Syrian administration officials given the size of the territory under their control.

In the worst-case scenario, the SDF forces wake up one morning to find the US security umbrella gone and are forced to fend for themselves when Turkish forces trundle in to grab the oil and gas fields and the dam on the Euphrates at Tabqa and install their own puppet regime.

The Americans failed to halt Iraq's coercive tactics against the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Peshmerga after last September's referendum in their eagerness to preserve the little clout they had in Baghdad.

Next, they did nothing to stop Turkish government forces and their allies from entering Syrian territory and seizing Afrin, in the process displacing thousands of civilians.

The precarious situation in northern Syria offers the US administration a chance to make amends for its perceived betrayals as well as to walk the talk. It could start with beefing up its military presence there and spending more money on recovery and reconstruction.

As for President Trump, he should resume talking about "withdrawing soldiers" from Syria. But it should be strictly in regard to the Turkish, Russian and Iranian forces that are not part of the international coalition.

This is how he can make America great again.

Arnab Neil Sengupta is an independent journalist and commentator on the Middle East.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.


Roadmap | 4/8/2018
Excelent piece of writing, a roadmap for Trump to read and follow, confidently.
Kurdo | 4/8/2018
American clonialist state is illegal. The white racist people settled there illegally and killed the native people. They used savage christian ideology to kill destroy and rape. And today they also used those who trusted west like the KRG. The result was krg lost half of its area in one day. Now Trump will leave Syrian and Iraq completely and those who praise America Zionist west and rely on them will get what they deserve. Zionists lobby control America and especially Trump and their goal is to let Kurds suffer to be able to use them more. If Kurds dont suffer Israel could not claim to be the only "friend"
FAUthman | 4/8/2018
Well written opinion, thanks. Question: US presence in Syria is as part of a 77 nation Coalition to defeat ISIS and to ensure it does not return. The Coalition therefore as a group must determine that its presence in Syria is no longer needed not only to defeat ISIS but to make sure it (ISIS) will not come back. One member alone (US, although the main member) cannot on its own just pack up and leave without a joint decision by the Coalition enabling it to do so. Therefore these rumors of imminent expeditious US departure (some say before the end of the year) from Manbij and the territories east of the Euphrates are unrealistic and exaggerated (partly caused by unwise statements from Trump probably to secure support funds from the rich Gulf states) and very likely to promote the political agendas of Iran and the regime in Damascus.
Guest | 5/8/2018
The facts are, U.S. forces are still in Syria continuing to support the SDF and being transparent about what their mission is, and what they will do and will not do. Also, people should remember that the formal number of U.S. troops on the ground in Syria is only a part of its total force commitment there. The U.S. has other personnel in the neighboring countries and waters also supporting the mission in Syria. When the type of personnel and the equipment they are using is taken into account, that force is capable enough to do far more than what people can even imagine. Aside from the types of weapons and highly-capable, low flying attack aircraft utilized by the U.S. forces in Syria, just the capabilities of the nearby U.S. naval forces in the waters around the region can serve as a deterrence against any of the forces in the area, not even considering the capabilities of the F-22 Raptor, an aircraft with far more advanced capabilities than any other aircraft of its kind in the world. The small defensive action that occurred in Deir al-Zor back in February, or the missile attacks against Syrian chemical weapons facilities, isn't even close to being a real example of what would occur if all U.S. force capability, just in the region, were to be deployed against a force threatening U.S. troops or its allies in the area. And U.S. troops train continually to improve the skill sets at using the equipment assigned to them as part of their job duty. They are all highly skilled which makes them very effective at their job. As for Afrin, the U.S. was transparent about what it would do, or not do in that area. Also, internal political differences in Iraq should be handled internally by Iraqis, not anyone else. It’s also not the responsibility of the United States to provide or pay for reconstruction efforts in Syria. I agree that President Trump should speak out more about the US/SDF partnership in Syria, but don’t think that the fact that he isn’t saying much about the effort in Syria is representative of the U.S. military capabilities in the region.
FAUthman | 5/8/2018
What is being overlooked is that both the US and Russia have encouraged the SDC to start negotiations with Damascus and that the members of the SDC meeting with regime representatives in Damascus at the end of July was not without the US approval. This is encouraging and significant.

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