Friday, June 5, 2020 -
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Second thoughts on Syria

Bolton to Erdogan: Hands off the Kurds. Just a first step, we hope.

We have second thoughts about the headline over this editorial because we are not certain that there were any reasoned first thoughts on Syria to begin with. We refer to President Trump’s senseless announcement last month that the US would pull its 2,000 troops out of Syria within 30 days.

Be they first or second, the thoughts that National Security Adviser John Bolton is now giving voice to are most welcome. He has told Turkey that the US will not leave Syria unless Turkey guarantees that it will not destroy America’s Kurdish allies who provided substantial help to US forces in defeating ISIS.

Needless to say, the Turks did not take kindly to Bolton’s message.  No matter. Turkey got the message: The US is not leaving the Kurds to Turkey’s tender mercies. It seems that Bolton has backed Turkey into a corner: Turkey can attack the Kurds only at risk of engaging militarily with the US. It seems that Bolton has also backed the US into a corner: The US cannot leave Syria if Turkey carries through on its threats against the Kurds.

We hope that Bolton and Trump have gotten the message that to pull US troops out of Syria at this juncture would only increase the danger of war. War in the Middle East complicates matters for the US, always diplomatically and often militarily.

That is why we hope that Bolton will also tell Hezbollah and Iran that the US will not leave Syria unless they halt their anti-Israel arms build-up inside Syria; and will tell the regime of Bashar Assad that the US will not leave Syria unless Assad stops attacking civilians and Syrian rebels with bunker-buster bombs, weapons of mass destruction and other ordnance; and will tell Russia that the US will not leave Syria until Russia stops abetting the presence of Iran in Syria.

Of course, all of these enemies of freedom in Syria — Hezbollah, Iran, Syria and Russia — will not currently agree to any such conditions. Which is exactly why the US should not leave Syria. We hope that at a minimum Bolton’s hard line with Turkey will give pause to the others, and at a maximum will signal a reversal of Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria.

Think about it: The US lost more than 50,000 soldiers in Vietnam. The US now has 14,000 troops in Afghanistan and some 4,000 troops still in Iraq (down from a height of some 166,000). Yet, with only 2,000 troops in Syria, the US has gotten the most bang for its military buck, so to speak. These 2,000 American troops have facilitated the nearly complete defeat of ISIS, have discouraged Hezbollah and Iran from dire attacks on Israel, have kept Russia in check and have limited Syria’s reconquest of the territory that once formed the Syrian state.

That is the military efficiency  that is always aspired to but not always achieved. Not to mention the critical criterion of the casualty rate. It is lower among this small number of American troops in Syria than in the much larger contingents in the other spheres of conflict listed above.

Bolton: Keep speaking up! Keep the American troops in Syria until Turkey leaves the Kurds alone, until Iran is completely out of Syria, until Bashar Assad is overthrown, until Hezbollah is defanged and Russia is no longer interested. It’s all possible with the continued presence of these 2,000 troops . . . and, of course, with Israel’s military might next door.

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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