Trump Discusses Exit Strategy From Syria

Today President Donald Trump said: “We’ll be coming out of Syria very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. … We’re going to have 100% of the caliphate, as they call it —sometimes referred to as land. We’re taking it all back.”

Yes, it is confusing and non specific, but let’s get to it.

First, do not bank on the term “very soon” as it is subjective and vague. What is soon? 30 days? 60? Three months? Six months? Secondly, “Let the other people take care of it now…” is likely referring to the United States, in cooperation with Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), handing control over of Manbij, Syria to Turkish military forces, not handing it over to Russia and Iran. Third, “We’re going to have 100% of the caliphate, as they call it—sometimes referred to as land” seems like gibberish; not sure what to say. Finally, “we’re taking it all back” is true: the US is certainly dedicated to defeating the Islamic State as a territorial entity, but once we “take it back” we either have to hold it or hand it over to someone. Who the US hands it over to depends on where, and to whom in the administration one is talking to.

America is still in Syria

What the president said was nice to hear for his base but the fact remains that the US still has a couple of thousand troops scattered throughout Syria. In the east in Deir Ezzor, where the Russians have pulled back to their designated “deconfliction” zone; in Al Tanf, in southern Syria, where the U.S.’s demonstrated resolve means no one dares approach; and in Manbij in the north, where the Kurdish-centric SDF holds the city. The Turks have bellowed and blustered about Manbij but have actually shown great restraint. For the most part they have reined in their proxies like the Free Syrian Army and have allowed the US the time it needs to relocate the SDF across the Euphrates, should the US decide to implement the original agreement reached with Turkey in 2016.

Tomorrow, the US will meet with Ankara seemingly to do just that, discuss the transition of power in Manbij. It’s actually a very simple agreement: the armed Kurdish faction known as the SDF is to stay on the eastern side of the Euphrates. It will be boring and not very effective clickbait. Admittedly, the messaging from the White House has all the discipline of a midwestern frat house, but it still leads the free world and neither giving up nor ignoring it is an option.