A New Middle East: Winners and Losers from Trump’s Abrupt Syria Withdrawal

by Juan Cole

Trump shook up the Washington establishment and Middle Eastern and world politics on Wednesday by abruptly announcing by Tweet a full and immediate withdrawal of US military forces from northeast Syria.


Trump’s motives for what he does are never easy to fathom. He may have been driven by a desire to please his base, which has been shaken this fall by a massive blue wave in the House midterms and a series of legal scandals sending members of Trump’s circle to prison and threatening Trump and his family members themselves. Trump campaigned in 2016 on contradictory principles, but one of his planks was to “give Syria to Putin” if the latter would defeat ISIL (the so-called Islamic State Group).

In recent weeks, Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan has been threatening to invade Manbij, a Syrian city that the Kurds and the US took from ISIL, but which lies west of the Euphrates and so in what Erdogan considers a Turkish security zone. US troops regularly patrol Manbij and are embedded among allied Kurdish troops there, so that the possibility of a military clash between NATO allies was looming.

Turkey had also been threatening to buy a Russian anti-aircraft system instead of US Patriot missiles, which had angered Washington. As soon as Trump tweeted his withdrawal from Syria, the Turkish purchase of billions of dollars worth the Patriot missiles was announced.

It may be that Trump has decided that he doesn’t want to risk an escalation with Turkey over the leftist Kurds (did someone tell him they are anti-capitalists?), and it may be that Erdogan offered the quid pro quo of a $3 billion deal for Patriots if only the US would get out and allow Turkey to have a straight shot at the Syrian Kurds.

So who are the losers from a US withdrawal from Syria

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