Although there is little worth salvaging in the United States’ flawed approach to the conflict in Syria, the Trump administration should stop making the situation worse. Inadequate policy coordination, incoherent presidential tweets, and discordant remarks by senior advisors have created confusion across the Middle East. And the disorderly withdrawal of U.S. troops, which President Donald Trump has already put in motion, will only serve to exacerbate tensions between Turkey—a NATO ally with legitimate security concerns—and Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters who spilled blood for the United States and deserve fair treatment.
As Asli Aydintasbas wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post, “Americans would need to do what they have been avoiding — that is, rolling out maps and engaging in geostrategic engineering, to develop a comprehensive peace plan between Turks and Kurds across Turkey, Syria and Iraq.” Yet the Trump administration likely lacks the required time, patience, and diplomatic heft (with no U.S. ambassador in Ankara since October 2017).
At minimum, the Trump administration should conclude diplomatic and military negotiations with Turkey that ensure an orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops and prevent a leadership vacuum that Russia and Iran will readily fill. The United States must honor past promises to Ankara, which include collecting all heavy weapons given to the YPG and finishing a “Manbij roadmap” that addresses security and governance arrangements.
Although the Trump administration did not create this Syria conundrum, it must help resolve it responsibly. The deaths of U.S. soldiers and civilians in Manbij following an Islamic State suicide bombing on Wednesday show how dangerous and volatile the situation remains.