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Syria, Afghanistan, and soon-to-be Former Secretary of Defense Mattis

By Tyler Bauer

A lot has happened in the past 48 hours, and I wanted to wait a bit to write about it to allow further information to come out. So, let’s look at the past couple days’ events in the order they occurred.

U.S. Troops to Leave Syria

On Wednesday, President Trump announced his plans to withdraw American troops from Syria. This announcement took many by surprise, as our presence in Syria has become a common theme of American foreign policy. Members of the Trump administration were upset that they were not consulted on this decision, and virtually every member of the administration agreed that this was a bad decision. Many members of Congress were also outraged, as they felt they should have had a say in the decision to withdraw troops from Syria. (Ironically, these same members of Congress were completely fine with the fact that President Obama did not give them a say when the United States entered Syria in 2014).

Although President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria has been met with almost universal condemnation, I think this is the right move, and possibly the best decision Trump has made in office.

Many people are comparing the decision to leave Syria with President Obama’s decision to leave Iraq in 2011, which is often cited as a decision that led to the rise of ISIS. This is simply wrong, though. It was the decision to enter Iraq in the first place that gave rise to the anti-Western, anti-American sentiments held by ISIS. Entering Iraq created the problem – leaving Iraq revealed the problem. Similarly, entering Syria created the problems we have had since 2014. Before this, Syrians had no reason to hate America. However, since we inserted ourselves in the situation, things have gotten progressively worse. Our involvement in Syria directly benefitted terrorist groups like ISIS. So, to say that withdrawing from Syria is good for ISIS completely misses the point – we never should’ve been in Syria to begin with.

Others are pointing to Russia, saying that President Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria will only embolden Russia and Iran. To an extent, this is true. Russia and Iran are on Syria’s side in the conflict. By removing the United States’s support for the “moderate” rebels (who are actually terrorists), Syria, Russia, and Iran’s job in Syria became much easier. However, we need to consider what these countries’ goals are. Each of these countries wants two things: to solidify the existing Syrian government, and to defeat terrorist groups like ISIS.

Our involvement in Syria was actively opposed to these goals, which makes one wonder why we were there in the first place. While it’s nowhere near perfect, the Syrian government isn’t nearly as bad as it’s made out to be (after all, Syria was a relatively nice and stable country before the civil war). Furthermore, the Syrian government is vehemently opposed to ISIS, as are Russia and Iran. Therefore, our decision to fight ISIS and Syria was a terrible idea. Syria isn’t great, but a stable Syria was – and still is – essential to prevent the Islamic caliphate ISIS desires.

As for Russia and Iran specifically, they were invited into Syria by the Syrian government. Syria asked for Iran’s assistance in the civil war. Similarly, Syria asked Russia for assistance in the civil war. Each of these countries were invited into Syria to help put down the rebel uprising, which included terrorist groups like ISIS. Which countries Syria is allied with is none of our business, so we have no right to determine who can and cannot be invited into Syria by the Syrian government. After all, we wouldn't like it if China told us who we can be allied with, so why should we think we have a right to do the same to Syria?

And, if none of this is enough to convince you, perhaps the cost of our involvement will:

Secretary of Defense Mattis Resigns

Yesterday, Secretary of Defense and former General James Mattis announced his resignation, effective at the end of February. In his resignation letter, which can be read here, Mattis cited different views on American foreign policy as the rationale behind his resignation. While he did not mention it explicitly, the timing of Mattis’s resignation is almost certainly due to President Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria.

The reaction to Mattis’s resignation was almost identical to the reaction to President Trump’s decision to leave Syria. Nearly everyone was outraged and upset. Republicans and Democrats alike praised Mattis’s lengthy record of public service and his level-headed, collected approach to matters of defense.

While I respect General Mattis as a person, I am happy to see him leaving the White House. He, like much of the establishment, has never seen a war he didn’t want to fight. I’m no fan of warmonger, and I hope Mattis’s replacement will be someone who realizes the idiocy of our policies in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Afghanistan, Too?

Almost immediately after news of Mattis’s resignation came out, rumors emerged that the U.S. was preparing to drastically reduce its troop presence in Afghanistan. The usual war hawk suspects – such as Republican Senator Lindsey Graham – strongly criticized this decision, claiming that such a quick withdrawal of American troops would destabilize Afghanistan. This is a ridiculous claim, though.

First, nothing about our involvement in Afghanistan is quick or hasty as the critics of the withdrawal suggest. The U.S. military has been directly intervening in Afghanistan for seventeen years. This is the second-longest war in our country’s history, second only to the Vietnam War (which is impressive, when you consider how many wars we’ve taken part in).

Second, to say that leaving Afghanistan would destabilize the country insists that Afghanistan is stable to begin with. Earlier this year, the BBC found that the Taliban – the enemy we’re supposedly fighting in Afghanistan – openly terrorizes roughly 70% of Afghanistan. I don’t know about you, but that statistic certainly doesn’t lead me to believe Afghanistan is stable. Seventeen years into the war, half of Afghanistan’s 30 million citizens either live under complete Taliban control or in areas in which the Taliban openly operates. Clearly, promoting stability isn’t a reason why we’re still in Afghanistan. (And even if this was a reason for our involvement, we’re failing badly).

What Now?

Decreasing our presence in Afghanistan and outright leaving Syria are huge steps toward freedom. Similarly, the resignation of Secretary of Defense Mattis is also a step towards freedom. I say this because a key aspect of freedom is peace and non-interventionism.

All of the aforementioned events are steps in the right direction, but will these steps actually be taken? For now, only time will tell.

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