America’s Withdrawal From Syria—and the Middle East
United States President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that all American forces will soon be withdrawn from Syria. In a video released on Twitter, Mr. Trump declared victory over the Islamic State and, as a result, has determined to withdraw the 2,000 troops currently inside Syrian territory.
“We have defeated isis in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency,” Mr. Trump tweeted, which was quickly followed by the video.
According to U.S. officials, planning has already begun to pull out the troops as soon as possible, although a timetable has not been given.
While certain supporters of President Trump will be glad to bring American troops home, the seemingly snap decision by the president has provoked widespread criticism among conservative Middle East commentators who worry that a U.S. withdrawal will result in greater dominance of Syria by Iran and Russia.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said he was blindsided by the report and called the decision “a disaster in the making.” Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the most knowledgeable lawmakers on Iran, called it “a major blunder” and a “colossal mistake.” Rubio asserted that if the decision “isn’t reversed, it will haunt this administration and America for years to come.”
Longtime Middle East commentator Jonathan Schanzer wrote on Twitter, “With his decision on Syria, Trump has effectively handed Syria to Russia, Iran, Assad, Hezbollah and Turkey. Obama’s redline debacle was a dark day for American leadership in the Middle East. This is far worse.”
While the Islamic State’s defeat in Syria is debatable, the decision to “bring the boys home” also goes contrary to all previous comments by Trump administration officials, indicating that President Trump unilaterally made the decision himself.
As recently as nine days ago, the president’s own special envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition told a press conference that the U.S. would remain in Syria after the defeat of the Islamic State. “I think it’s fair to say Americans will remain on the ground after the physical defeat of the caliphate until we have the pieces in place to ensure that that defeat is enduring,” Bret McGurk told reporters on December 11. “Nobody is declaring a mission accomplished. Defeating a physical caliphate is one phase of a much longer-term campaign.” He also said, “Obviously, it would [be] reckless to say that the physical caliphate is defeated so that we can just leave now. I think anyone that has looked at a conflict like this would agree with that.”
Along with McGurk, National Security Adviser John Bolton said as late as September that the U.S. would maintain a military presence in Syria as long as Iran is there. “We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias.”
Given that it seems most of Mr. Trump’s advisers were against the move, and some didn’t even see it coming, it’s likely his decision is not part of a grand plan that involves Syria, or even the Middle East, but was rather made for some political reason. Regardless of Mr. Trump’s motivation, the withdrawal will have an immediate and long-lasting effect on the Middle East.
Only 2,000 Troops?
Criticism of Trump’s decision could be considered overblown, given that there are only 2,000 American troops in Syria to begin with. But an American ground presence in a battle zone, no matter the size of the contingent, is a stabilizing effect and a deterrent. This is undoubtedly true in the complicated Syrian war, especially for the Kurds in north Iraq, which is why many are viewing Trump’s decision as a betrayal of the Kurds.
American forces in Syria have sought to train and equip Kurdish forces in the fight against the Islamic State. The Kurds had proved themselves to be one of the most effective ground forces in the fight. However, American support of the Kurds has long upset Turkey, which is worried that a stronger Kurdish entity in Syria could destabilize the Kurdish population inside Turkey. Turkey’s own military mission inside Syria has been to ensure the Kurds do not become too powerful. American forces embedded with the Kurds have deterred Turkey, Iran and Russia from attacking.
Bloomberg View’s Eli Lake wrote that Trump’s decision could be seen as a capitulation to Turkey and an abandonment of a U.S. ally:
Capitulating now to Turkish demands would send a terrible message. [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan would conclude that threatening U.S. interests pays off. Meanwhile, other groups that have joined the American side in the Middle East would conclude the U.S. is an unreliable ally. It’s particularly galling to contemplate a withdrawal just as Kurdish forces are engaged in fierce fighting to liberate one of the last Islamic State holdouts, the town of Hanin.
That Turkey was factored into the Trump decision was further elucidated when the State Department announced late Tuesday that it had finally approved the sale of a $3.5 billion Patriot missile system to Turkey after significant delays.
Yet more than just an apparent capitulation to Turkey, the American withdrawal from Syria will benefit Iran.
Ceding Syria to Iran
Along with the training mission of the Kurds, the United States currently occupies a base in an extremely important strategic location on the Syria-Iraq border. The Al-Tanf base is a launching pad for many missions against the Islamic State, but it also serves a more important function as a roadblock that prevents Iran from controlling a highway for hauling illicit arms to the Syrian regime and Hezbollah through Iraq.
As we reported in the November-December issue of the Trumpet, Iran desires to control the vast swath of land from Iran, across Iraq, Syria and into Lebanon. Completing this “Shia Cresent,” as it has been called, is one of the major reasons for Iran’s involvement in Syria’s civil war.
Up until Trump’s withdrawal announcement, preventing Iran from controlling this Shia Crescent seemed to be one of the main post-Syrian war strategic objectives for the U.S. While the stated objective of the Al-Tanf base was to be a staging ground for strikes against the Islamic State, it also acted as an important buffer between Iranian forces in Syria and Iraq.
Notice what Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, said during a visit to the base on October 22:
… [W]e don’t have a counter Iranian mission here. We have a defeat [the Islamic State] mission. But I do recognize that our presence, our developments of partners and relationships down here does have an indirect effect on some malign activities that Iran and their various proxies and surrogates would like to pursue down here.
With Trump’s withdrawal and the subsequent removal of the Al-Tanf military base, Iran will have largely achieved its objective to control the roadway from Iran to Lebanon. As Tony Badran wrote in usa Today on Wednesday, “Already, Iranian-led Shiite militias are operating at the edges of the U.S. zone and could move in swiftly and connect the Iraqi and Syrian terrains. This would provide Iran with overland routes to deliver advanced weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon, while building up offensive capabilities in Syria, including in the south, along the country’s border with Israel.”
Break Between Trump and Israel
To most with knowledge on the subject, this is a severe strategic blunder, the effect of which will be felt mostly by Israel.
A U.S. withdrawal “would mean that the Assad forces and the Iranians will have full control over Syria, and this would mean that they may try to deliver weapons from Iran through Iraq to Syria and then to Lebanon. And there’s not going to be anything in between to stop them,” Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser (Ret.), a former director of Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry, told the Times of Israel on Wednesday. He continued, “Especially the Iranians are going to be empowered and feel much stronger.”
According to Israel’s Channel 10, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was deeply disappointed by the announcement and tried hard to convince Mr. Trump to reconsider the move. But the U.S. president reportedly refused to reconsider.
Publicly, Mr. Netanyahu’s comments were more muted. He released a statement saying, “I spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump [on Monday] and yesterday with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who told me that it was the president’s intention to withdraw their forces from Syria and made it clear that they had other ways to express their influence in the arena. This is, of course, America’s decision ….”
Nevertheless, Mr. Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria is seen by some in Israel as a major setback in a largely positive relationship between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Trump.
As Raphael Ahren wrote on Wednesday, “Ending the American presence in Syria, leaving Israel alone to deal with Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, thus marks the first major setback in the hitherto harmonious U.S.-Israel relationship.”
What Does Bible Prophecy Say?
The Trumpet has frequently written about the prophetic implications of the Syrian civil war.
Mostly we discuss how Bible prophecy indicates that Iran will eventually lose its position of power in Syria and be replaced by a resurgent and dominant German-led Europe. Indeed it is important to now watch for Europe’s reaction to an American withdrawal. Considering the Europeans’ continued vulnerability to refugees from war-trodden Syria, and its growing understanding of the danger posed by Iranian hegemony in the Middle East, they might want to replace the United States at the Al-Tanf base.
However, there is a more powerful prophetic trend at play here. In fact, it is this prophetic trend that actually provides the environment for all other prophecies in the Middle East to even take place.
That prophecy: the complete withdrawal of American power from the entire Middle East.
The U.S. is currently experiencing a prophesied temporary resurgence under the leadership of President Trump. (For more on this, please read Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry’s article “Saving America From the Radical Left—Temporarily.”) However, this brief period of resurgence will swiftly give way to a stunning collapse.
Far from maintaining its superpower status throughout the Trump presidency, the Bible actually shows that the U.S. will withdraw from the world scene to deal with increasingly worrying domestic problems.
Hosea 5:13 states, “When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound, then went Ephraim to the Assyrian, and sent to king Jareb: yet could he not heal you, nor cure you of your wound.”
Explaining this verse in his booklet Jerusalem in Prophecy, Mr. Flurry writes, “The Hebrew clearly indicates that both Israel and Britain go to Germany for help. Both Judah and Britain are in danger of falling. By this point, America will be too weak and too sick itself to help.”
Naturally, if Israel was in trouble, it would reach out to its ally the U.S. However, this prophecy shows that America will be too preoccupied with its own problems to help Israel. By this time, Israel would have been let down so much by the U.S., that it has no choice but to go to a historic enemy for help: Assyria (modern-day Germany).
Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from Syria, even while his greatest ally Israel is threatened by Iran, sets a powerful prophetic precedent of American withdrawal not only from the Middle East, but also from the world.
Many in the world, and even in the U.S., will rejoice that President Trump is bringing troops home. But the decision presages more American retreat from the world stage. As these prophecies are being fulfilled, it’s important to take time to study about where events are leading. To get a clear picture of the United States’ role in end-time events, please read Gerald Flurry’s free booklet Great Again.