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Northern Syria: A Small Withdrawal’s ‘Massive’ Effects (Audio)

Aykan Erdemir
Russian President Vladimir Putin, center right, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan , center left, speak during their meeting in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Oct. 22, 2019. (Photo: AP)

America’s withdrawal of approximately 1,000 troops from northeast Syria is one of those quantitatively small events that will have a “massive” long-term effect on the Middle East and beyond. So, said Aykan Erdemir, a former member of the Turkish parliament and a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

On an October 24 conference call hosted by the Jewish Policy Center, Dr. Erdemir highlighted four negative consequences of the U.S. pull-out from areas held by Syrian Kurdish allies in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS):

  1. From now on, allies and potential partners will be hedging, turning to Russia and beyond. “The United States just lost major credibility and trust”;
  2. The Trump administration undercut its one successful, efficient model of a low-cost, small force commitment combined with using local partners—in this case Syrian Kurdish allies—in defeating an enemy. Erdemir said “this model posed the greatest threat to Moscow and Tehran’s” regional ambitions;
  3. Dictator Bashar al-Assad, on the ropes early in Syria’s civil wars that began in 2011, gradually will “gain the upper hand more and more” at the expense of local people, including not only the U.S.’ Kurdish partners in northeastern Syria but also other vulnerable minorities including Yazidis, Syriac Christians and others.
  4. ISIS escapees from Kurdish prisons and other jihadists may reemerge and “force the U.S. to come back in, as in Iraq” with greater numbers and at a higher financial cost.

In addition, Russia bolsters its new role as major regional actor, Iran gains greater maneuverability—including against Israel—and Turkey’s ambitious leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, finds himself compliant with Moscow “since he knows [Russia’s Vladimir] Putin can push back harder.”

Click here for a full transcript.