A Few Thoughts on The President’s Announced Withdrawal of US Forces and Personnel from Syria

I want to share a few thoughts on the President’s announcement this morning that US Forces and personnel will be immediately, or as immediate as is ever possible when the military is involved, withdrawn from Syria. Some of you are aware that I was involved with, and provided inputs for, the development of the US’s theater strategy for combatting ISIS in Syria and Iraq specifically through pre-deployment strategic analysis and assessment, and have provided remote reachback support to senior personnel (both a former boss and a number of my former students) deployed at Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve and its subordinate elements. I have also either been asked if I would be willing to deploy back to Iraq or have offered to do so several times since 2013. None of those potential deployments materialized. Please keep all of this in mind when you read this post. I clearly have some subjective involvement in and attachment to what we’re currently doing, even with the changes that were made once the current administration came into office in January 2017. I’m going to keep this as brief as possible to avoid potential problems related to my past work on this problem set.

This morning the President announced that he was ordering an immediate withdrawal of US military and civilian personnel from Syria. We now know what that means, provided it is not changed, adjusted, and/or cancelled given that DOD, State, and the National Security Council and Staff appear to have been blindsided by the President’s announcement.

The immediate, within 24 hour removal of State Department personnel, while not logistically difficult, is a huge issue. The personnel being withdrawn were working on the civilian side of the Stability Operations we are conducting. This includes the USAID personnel who are working with internally displaced Syrians, as well as refugees in the region and coordinating humanitarian relief and assistance with local NGOs and other local groups. The military withdrawal will, of course, take longer because it isn’t just removing personnel, but equipment, which will obviously take longer than 24 hours.

So what, exactly, are we actually doing in Syria? What is it that will stop as a result of this withdrawal order? We are basically doing two things in Syria. The first is a train, advise, and assist mission with our local Syrian partners who are predominantly Kurdish, but some are Arabs, who are fighting ISIS. This is a Special Forces mission supported by a some Marine Corps artillery. The second thing we’re doing is, as an extension of the train, advise, and assist mission, conducting stability operations among the Syrian population where we are partnered with and training our local Syrian partners. This is being done within a “by, with, and through” strategy of partnering with vetted local groups. If we pull out there will be four immediate effects.

  1. The collapse of the local stabilization we’re contributing to. This will result in increased internally displaced Syrians and Syrian refugees who will flee ahead of both Syrian and ISIS efforts to fill the vacuum the withdrawal will create.
  2. As a result of the first effect, we will see an increased humanitarian crisis in the areas we withdraw from.
  3. We will once again have abandoned the Kurds despite the promises we’ve made to them, which further diminishes the United States ability to exercise any form of national power (Diplomatic, Information, Military, Economic), because it further demonstrates that we can’t be trusted, won’t keep our word, and can’t be counted on.
  4. The vacuum and destabilization created by the withdrawal will be filled by both Syrian forces and ISIS. They will move to occupy and control the areas we’ve left, will fight each other in them, and this will lead to further destabilization in Syria and, potentially, throughout the Levant. It creates new stresses, challenges, and threats for Iraq and Lebanon, as well as for Israel and Turkey even though both of those states have been pursuing their own interests in Syria. And because of increased refugee outflows, it will increase pressures and problems for our allies in the EU.

We have not, no matter what the President has said, defeated ISIS. While it is true that ISIS has lost its physical holdings – the self declared caliphate – this actually makes them more dangerous, not less. They are no longer required to try to hold their territorial gains, nor are they required to provide the functions of a state within the self declared caliphate. As a result they have actually been liberated to focus on a low intensity irregular and asymmetric war to achieve their objective: the spread and imposition of their extreme understanding of tawheed/the radical unity of the Deity on their fellow Muslims. This includes forcefully and, if necessary, violently cracking down on what they define as innovation in Islam/Islamic practice (bidda), unbelief (kufr), apostasy (ridda), and polytheism (shirk). Freed of having to create and administer a state – the self declared caliphate – ISIS has been freed up to actually become more dangerous and more lethal. ISIS fighters are now free to go anywhere and fight everywhere. Destroying the physical caliphate, while an important step in reducing ISIS and its ability to do harm within and without the Levant, is not itself a defeat of ISIS. And, as counterintuitive as it may seem, it actually increases ISIS’s lethality within and without the Levant in the short term. This is not something that US policymakers, as well as the senior military and civilian leaders tasked with reducing ISIS were unaware of. As is always the case when pursuing strategic objectives, achieving one creates new problems that require new, or at least adjusted, strategies to resolve.

Our withdrawal, especially an immediate one, also creates openings for the regional powers that have been using the Syrian Civil War as a proxy war to achieve their own regional objectives. The Syrian Civil War, of which the fight against ISIS is only one facet, has been facilitated and worsened because the Saudis, the Iranians, and the Turks have all used the civil war itself, as well as the proxies they are funding and supporting within it, to try to become the regional hegemon. These three regional powers are largely pursuing a religio-political hegemony.

The Saudis seek to establish themselves as the leaders of a Sunni Muslim Middle East, rooted in their state sanctioned form of Islam – Salafism. Salafism, meaning fundamentalism, is really tawheed – Muhammed ibn Abdul Wahhab’s doctrine of the radical unity of the Deity as the focus of Islam. The Iranians seek to consolidate and maintain the sphere of influence they have created in and through Iraq and Lebanon, both Twelver Shi’a majority states, and Syria, which is controlled by the Alawites a Shi’a offshoot that the Supreme Religious Authority in Iran has declared is actually Shi’a. Erdogan in Turkey seeks to return the Turks to their historic role of influencing and dominating the Middle East, the trans-Caucusus, and Central Asia as the East/West and North/South gateway in the region.

The Israelis are also trying to manipulate the Syrian Civil War to create and achieve their long standing goal of creating strategic depth between themselves and the Iranians. Which is why Netanyahu has been dealing directly with Putin in regard to just how far Iranian regular and irregular forces are allowed to proceed in Syria. This deal between Netanyahu and Putin also appears to be why the President ordered a partial withdrawal of US military and civilian personnel who were supporting rebel groups and helping to provide local stability in Syria near the Israeli border earlier this year.

Finally, Russia has its own interests in Syria. They need to maintain their warm water port at Latakia. But they also need the Syrian Civil War, as well as the threat posed by ISIS, for as long as possible. Putin’s strategic objective here is to keep the Levant unstable for as long as possible in order to maximize refugee flows into Europe and thereby provide the nationalist and neo-fascist movements, political parties, and politicians he’s supporting with an ongoing divisive issue in his ongoing attempt to exacerbate domestic political issues within Europe in order to rip apart the European Union and NATO.

If the President’s announcement of an immediate withdrawal was part of a well developed strategy to achieve the US’s policy objectives of defeating ISIS and stabilizing the Levant, then I would be very supportive. We shouldn’t have personnel deployed where despite their tactical successes, they are unable to achieve the larger US and allied strategic objectives. This dynamic has been the case in Afghanistan for years, which is why the best thing that can happen in the Afghan theater of operations is a negotiated settlement and a withdrawal of almost all US military personnel. Any ongoing mission in Afghanistan, provided the Afghans would be interested, should be all about political and economic development, which can be accomplished a lot more effectively by civilian subject matter experts from the civilian agencies of the US government and our coalition partners and allies. This, however, is not the case in Syria. ISIS is not defeated and, if anything, is even more dangerous as it is now freed from having to defend actual physical territory. And the Syrian Civil War is still ongoing and destabilizing the Levant as well as Europe. The limited/light footprint train, advise, and assist strategy we are currently pursuing still has merit. It should not be abandoned on a whim.

Open thread.

117 replies
  1. 1
    debbie says:

    Adam, how many times have we abandoned the Kurds? I know it’s more than twice. With our record of abandonments since the first Iraq War, I can’t imagine anyone anywhere in the world will trust we have their backs.

    Also, I heard a number of interviews about this — experts, military, veterans, and not a one support this idiot move.

  2. 2

    I think Putin said “Jump” and Trump said “How high?”

    My immediate intuitive reaction is that there’s going to be a lot more deaths in Syria.

  3. 3

    @debbie: By electing W and now T, Americans have put the world on notice. We is cray cray, trust us at your own peril.

  4. 4
    Jay says:


    After WWI,
    twice in the 70’s,
    Gulf War I
    Dubya Dubya Me Too

    And it’s been a bunch of different Kurds.

  5. 5
    debbie says:


    And it’s been a bunch of different Kurds.

    Obviously. Most of us don’t live that long.

  6. 6
    Dan B says:

    Trump spoke with Erdogan on Friday. On Tuesday the State Department approved the sale of Cruise missiles to Turkey. Erdogan has stated that he wants to start a campaign east of the Euphrates.

    How can Putin contain this?

  7. 7
    debbie says:


    Agreed. Hopefully, he will wrestle out a compromise with himself like he did for the wall.

  8. 8
    NotMax says:

    Less than minor proofreading notation, but tiny correction needed.

    The collapse of the local stabilization we’re contributing too.

    The collapse of the local stabilization we’re contributing to.

  9. 9

    Thanks for this write-up. I kind of figured this would be a disaster, like everything else associated with this sham of an administration*. Yet despite this making Daesh stronger and screwing over the Kurds yet again, I’m sure the Republican Party will not lose its reputation among Very Serious People as the national security party. This would surely break suspension of disbelief in a work of fiction.

    Much as I hate to engage in conspiracy theorizing, I have to wonder what Putin has on Individual-1. It is irresponsible not to speculate.

  10. 10
    zhena gogolia says:


    I think he means in different nations.

  11. 11
    jimmiraybob says:

    “…provided it is not changed, adjusted, and/or cancelled given that DOD, State, and the National Security Council and Staff…”

    Der. Out of the loop. If these people want input they need to get a prime talk show on Fox. Or rent a large block of rooms for a year in the Trump hotel in DC. Preferably both.

    “Where did POTUS get the information to make this decision?”

    From people who have prime talk shows on Fox. Maybe throw in Info wars.

    Hasn’t anyone read their memos? Uh, tweets?

  12. 12
  13. 13
    cope says:

    Is it also helpful to Russia to keep the area destabilized in order to influence oil prices?

  14. 14
    milo says:

    I realize this is probably unspeakably naive, but does the fact that ISIS is more dangerous for having lost its physical holdings mean that it would’ve been wiser to cede them territory, to sort of lock them into a ‘self declared caliphate?’ Force them to act like a state?

  15. 15
    Chyron HR says:

    Well, regardless of whether the US has been totally defeated or 99% defeated I think it’s time to give up.

  16. 16
    Johnny Gentle (famous crooner) says:

    Adam – Thank you for your analysis, which is highly informative as usual. My immediate concerns were also for the humanitarian impact on the civilians, not to mention pulling the football away from the Kurds yet again. They fought the Taliban and ISIS for us, and all they got was this lousy T-shirt.

    I feel inadequate disagreeing with an expert, but I had read that a large part of what gave ISIS its outsize power is precisely because it did have its “caliphate,” even if it meant having to provide the governmental functions that came with it. The caliphate was a big shining beacon drawing fighters to the cause and distinguishing ISIS from state-less guerilla organizations like al-Qaeda. While ISIS is obviously still deadly, unmooring it from its state presumably diminishes its legitimacy, not to mention resources. Of course I could be wrong about this.

  17. 17
    Dan B says:

    Another minor: as well as the proxies their funding

    Should be they’re or they are

    Fantastic post btw!

  18. 18
    NotMax says:

    All Dolt 45 heard when Bolton talked of how leaving would firm up control by the Alawites was “whites.”

  19. 19
    TS (the original) says:

    Someone told trump it would increase his numbers in the polls (Putin?) – and help at election time – only reason he does anything. He wouldn’t understand any which way how anyone (excluding Russia) would be impacted by the withdrawal.

  20. 20
    debbie says:


    I’m sorry, but I really wish people would stop doing this pedant thing. It is counterproductive and contributes nothing to the conversation. It’s fine to dispute or fact check facts, but this kind of thing is pure bullshit. No one would misunderstand the intent.

    Carping over such tiny things after someone has put a great deal of time and thought and has provided so much useful information and perspective! Who the fuck even cares: The world is falling apart.

    (I say this as someone who tech edited journals for more than 10 years. It. Is. Not. Important.)

  21. 21
    Kraux Pas says:

    I support the idea that we should reduce our footprint abroad. Still, the timetable seems a little short (I only remember the Obama era Iraq and Afghanistan drawdowns to compare them to). This kind of feels like we’re hurriedly abandoning our partners rather than ending our participation in combat and setting up our allies for success before leaving. Even a slow, orderly process leaves bad elements room to grow into. This will just make a more intense vacuum faster.


    (I say this as someone who tech edited journals for more than 10 years. It. Is. Not. Important.)

    Unless it reduces the actual clarity of the statement.

  22. 22
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @debbie: Somewhere between four and six.

  23. 23
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Raven Onthill: My understanding is that the President made this announcement shortly after speaking with Erdogan this morning. My guess Erdogan promised him something. Such as backing off the Kashoggi mess. The Trump Doctrine at work!

  24. 24
    debbie says:

    @Kraux Pas:

    Right. It did not reduce clarity of the statement. Plus, it is rude.

    @Adam L Silverman:


  25. 25
    Barbara says:

    Do you think this is in response to pressure from Turkey as the price for stopping the drip drip on Mohammed Bone Saw? I am not sure how much more information there was to release, but the haste and the timing seems kind of crazy.

  26. 26
    Barbara says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Okay, I see great minds think alike. So he has once again sold the U.S. out to his and Kushner’s business interests in KSA.

  27. 27
    Jay C says:

    So: one more “thought”, Adam: WTF do you think IS Trump’s “plan” or :strategy” (if we can even entertain those terms wrt this idiot Administration) regarding Syria?

    I can kinda/sorta understand the rationale behind wanting to draw down our presence there (even if, like, you, I disagree with it) – but: a surprise announcement of a complete withdrawal? Apparently without informing – and against the advice of – any other departments of the Government, civil or military? And in a relatively/ridiculously short timeframe, at that?

    Also, it’s hard to see who really benefits from this precipitous drawdown – outside of the Russians (and ISIS)?

  28. 28
    Jeffro says:

    And now we will get to see how a good overall decision, without any understanding of the specifics necessary to keep it from turning into a total cluster, puts that much more stress on the officers and service members who have to carry this ‘order’ out while dramatically upping the chances that it turns into a total cluster.

    Why are we governing-by-tweet, again? Why is this even remotely acceptable, and not, say, cause for invoking the 25th Amendment/impeachment hearings/unanimous disgust from elected officials right left and center?

  29. 29
    Mike in NC says:

    A master strategic move, like “removing the nuclear threat from North Korea” by glad handing Rocket Man. Right! Trump listens to no one with a working brain.

  30. 30
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Dan B: Putin doesn’t want to contain it. As long as he keeps his port and Assad stays in power, he wants the chaos. The chaos and instability drive refugees to Europe, which help his nationalist and neo-fascist proxies in the EU.

  31. 31
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @NotMax: What’s funny is that every time I type “we’re” I get the little red, misspelled underline even though it is spelled right.

  32. 32
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @cope: To a certain extent. Syria doesn’t pump much oil though.

  33. 33
    Adam L Silverman says:

    I see things are going well:

  34. 34
    Jay says:


    It’s now 9 different Kurdish political/cultural groups in 5 countries.

  35. 35
    Brachiator says:

    We will once again have abandoned the Kurds despite the promises we’ve made to them, which further diminishes the United States ability to exercise any form of national power (Diplomatic, Information, Military, Economic), because it further demonstrates that we can’t be trusted, won’t keep our word, and can’t be counted on.

    Trump doesn’t care, because he does not think in terms of strategic alliances. He sees the world in terms of him being strong enough to impose his will on countries as he makes America first. Conversely, if a country or region is unable to take care of itself, it is weak and thus, beneath notice. And if a country does not have the financial resources and development to be able to make a side deal with Trump, then it has no value at all.

    Equality, respect, trust, does not ever enter into the equation for Trump’s foreign policy.

    We have not, no matter what the President has said, defeated ISIS. While it is true that ISIS has lost its physical holdings – the self declared caliphate – this actually makes them more dangerous, not less. They are no longer required to try to hold their territorial gains, nor are they required to provide the functions of a state within the self declared caliphate.

    I don’t think that Trump is remotely capable of understanding this.

    The sadder thing is that Trump supporters, and the GOP leadership, only care about protecting Israel, and perhaps in baiting Iran into war against the US (or just attacking them outright) so that “Arabs” can be slapped around and shown who is boss.

  36. 36
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @milo: No. A reactionary, extremist, violent, expansionary, theocratic revolutionary state in the middle of the Levant would be a HUGE problem. We were and are prepared for the short term increase in potential lethality.

  37. 37
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Johnny Gentle (famous crooner): You’re not wrong. But there’s a difference between strength as a resource and lethality. Without having to expend resources to maintain the caliphate, ISIS can, instead, expend them on lethal operations.

  38. 38
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Dan B: Yes, fine. Fixing it now.

  39. 39
    rikyrah says:

    Thanks for the post, Silverman.
    There were no good choices.

  40. 40
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Barbara: I think, based on the reporting, that it is a distinct possibility.

  41. 41
    NotMax says:


    Honestly, I never got the slightest impression that Adam minds it, as one thing he strives for in his communication is accuracy.

  42. 42
    guachi says:

    My day job is Iraq. The people who sit 100 feet from me, their day job is Syria.

    I’d be shocked if any of them thought this had any possibility of making the situation in either country better. None of the other actors – Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Russia – are worth trusting to make things notably better.

    The withdrawal enables ISIS (what’s left of it). The SDF will be hard pressed to maintain itself. The Kurds in Iraq and Syria are probably screwed.

    If you really don’t care who has influence or what happens in the region then, yeah, sure, it’s a good idea.

  43. 43

    @Adam L Silverman: Also, Turkey agreed to buy some warplanes.

    Against my policy of not retweeting him, but here we go with another rendition of “Mission Accomplished.”

  44. 44
    tobie says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I wrote this morning on Cheryl’s thread that the timing of this seemed weird. Via Whitaker, the White House could well have known last week that an indictment was coming down against Flynn’s business partner for lobbying for the Turkish government without registering as a foreign agent. The indictment came Monday, and Flynn’s involvement with Turkey came up on Tuesday, and today we have the announcement of the US withdrawing from Syria which must please the Turks to no end. This could be coincidence or it could mean that Turkey is calling in favors fast knowing that Trump will be so mired in scandal soon that he’s be unable to do anything. The lifting of sanctions on Deripaska’s companies seems like another favor called in for this reason.

  45. 45
    TS (the original) says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Thanks for that & also the entire post. When President Obama spoke with other Heads of state/government there used to be readouts supplied to the press. I rarely see anything about who and why trump speaks with other leaders.

  46. 46

    Whatever one thinks of the pros and cons longer term, the way to withdraw troops from fighting is not to wake up one morning and say “Okay, pack up your stuff. We’re leaving.”

  47. 47
    Schlemazel says:

    I have never seen any explanation of this, does anyone know why the West screwed the Kurds in 1918? I don’t really remember why England and France divided the Ottoman Empire the way it did but the Kurdish deal seems really odd

  48. 48
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Barbara: Most likely.

  49. 49
    Vhh says:

    @Brachiator: Trump doesn’t think that hard. He’s got terrible headlines in RUSSIA/TURKEY/STORMY/RICO-Gate, and needsa distraction

  50. 50
    debbie says:


    I remember Adam having a testy exchange with someone. It wasn’t you, but I can’t remember who it was.

  51. 51
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Jay C: There isn’t one. He doesn’t like the operation because Obama originated it. He doesn’t think it gets him anything. I’m sure he’s being nagged about it when he deals with Putin. So he’s simply declaring victory and coming home. That’s it. It may get him, despite ISIS not actually being defeated, a new talking point for his rallies and tweets and press gaggles that his base will accept no matter evidence to the contrary.

  52. 52
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Jay: Yahtzee!

  53. 53
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Adam, do you define “The Levant” narrowly or loosely? There seems always to have been a bit of ambiguity as to the precise definition.

    This is a terrific post, with (mostly) really good comments and questions. Getting you as a Front-Pager was one of John Cole’s most inspired moves. (And I think, in turn, we got Cheryl through you, so twofer!)

  54. 54
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @rikyrah: As President Obama said, by the time the decisions reach his level it is because there are no good options to resolve the problem and the decisions cannot be made by his subordinates. Unfortunately the President doesn’t understand any of that.

  55. 55

    OT, but BuzzFeed won the suit against it for publishing the Steele dossier.

  56. 56
    Brachiator says:


    Trump doesn’t think that hard. He’s got terrible headlines in RUSSIA/TURKEY/STORMY/RICO-Gate, and needsa distraction

    This announcement is not going to distract Mueller.

    Trump may have some crazy reason for his announcement, but I don’t think it’s about distraction. Maybe it’s related to his need to be able to exert some authority over something, as he is being denied his wall.

  57. 57
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @NotMax: I only mind it when it is being done in an obnoxiously condescending manner. Ewer fayun.

  58. 58
    chopper says:

    man, the rebels and civilians in the areas we control are well and truly fucked. assad is going to fuck them up royally and he’s going to love every minute of it.

    also, knowing that we’re out and unwilling to go back in, he’s going to do it in the nastiest way possible. and it’s not like russia is going to hold him back in that regard.

  59. 59
    patrick II says:

    On the issue of making ISIS more dangerous, I was listening to an NPR story about Iraq and its treatment of civilians in territories once controlled by ISIS. Revenge and murder seems to be the Iraqi themes of territorial management. So, they are recreating the conditions that caused ISIS to arise in the first place, and inevitably adding new recruits to ISIS.

  60. 60
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @guachi: And I’m available to come and give a briefing and do some training any time you all want!

    All lines are open. All operators are standing by.

  61. 61
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Adam L Silverman: This sounds like a fine applause line for his rallies… right up until the moment there’s another terrorist attack somewhere and ISIS claims responsibility.

  62. 62
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: That is the expression of a man whose shoes and underwear are too tight

  63. 63
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @TS (the original): You’re quite welcome. I thought about including that information in the post, but decided it really didn’t add anything to the argument I was making.

  64. 64
    sukabi says:

    @Jay C: trumps plan is first and always “how can I make $$ and stay in the news”

    That is literally all that’s important to him (there’s a new item that’s beginning to resonate with him, “how can I stay out of prison”

  65. 65
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    @Schlemazel: The agreement on how to dive the Ottoman was done is sort of what the heck by two low level officials in 1916.


  66. 66
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Brachiator: Maybe it’s related to him getting pissed off about something, or everything, and yelling “to hell with this, fuck it!” You get the feeling he does that a lot.

  67. 67
    Jay C says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    You’re probably right, but I can’t help trying to imagine what Trump is going to say (to his “base” or anybody else) when the supposedly “defeated” ISIS commits its next mass-slaughter/atrocity: especially in a area where the US withdrew forces.

    “Fake News”, most likely….

  68. 68
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Unless you’re the unit commander who is withdrawing. Then it is a completely appropriate fragmentary order!//

  69. 69
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @debbie: I do. And he so does that person. That commenter and I have come to an understanding. And let’s leave it at that.

  70. 70
    lamh36 says:

    1h1 hour ago
    More Molly Jong-Fast Retweeted Josh Dawsey
    Um, we fucking told you having a president compromised by Russia might be problematic.

    Follow Follow @jdawsey1
    Sen. Lindsey Graham tells me he was “completely blindsided” by Trump’s call to remove troops from Syria — and that he sees it as a significant mistake. “The big winners of this decision are ISIS, Iran, Russia and Assad,” he says.

    10:58 AM – 19 Dec 2018 from Washington, DC

  71. 71
    cope says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I understand that but was wondering if Syria’s chaos slops over into the general instability of the entire region in a way similar way to how the refugee crisis is affecting Europe.

  72. 72
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: I always define the Levant as: Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, parts of Iraq (as in the parts closest to Syria and Jordan), and Israel. And that was how I always learned it.

  73. 73
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: And thanks for the kind words. I’m a big fan of what Cheryl does here too!

  74. 74
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    @Brachiator: Probably polling showing Trump he’s losing his base so trying to create some victory narrative to go along with the sentencing reform bill that just passed. That’s really the only think Trump cares about.

  75. 75
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @patrick II: Iraq has its own domestic, internal issues.

  76. 76
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @FlipYrWhig: Yep.

  77. 77
    NotMax says:

    Wasn’t one of Dolt 45’s dicta to never announce a timeline?

  78. 78
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @cope: It does to an extent. Jordan is about as stressed as it can handle, but it is coping. My real worry is actually Lebanon. Lebanon does not handle population changes well at all. I’m professionally amazed it has handled things as well as it has. But if it goes sideways, then you’re looking at WW III to stabilize, contain, and then rebuild the region.

  79. 79
    NotMax says:

    @Adam L. Silverman

    It’s like the description of English vowels: And sometimes the Sinai.

  80. 80
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @NotMax: Yes it was. Why do you ask?

  81. 81
    TS (the original) says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Knowing who he is talking to helps me find a reason for his pronouncements – then again, I have to remind myself he usually has no sane reason for anything he does. I worked for years in various government departments – when I moved to a small private company I told my then boss that only if it meant money for me would I ever fill in another form. trump may use a similar philosophy when making policy decisions – does it mean money to him and the family.

  82. 82

    @Brachiator: @Enhanced Voting Techniques: I agree–it’s about politics and his pathetic ego. Trumpov’s decisions on the Govt Shutdown, the bump stock ban, the Criminal Justice Reform bill and now this, is all an attempt to improve his poll numbers and get some “wins” under his belt before the New Year when Mueller will probably start to drop the hammer on his bloated a$$. He’s seriously worried about the GOP abandoning him and what that will mean in regards to impeachment.

    While I’m not keen on our situation in Syria, I’m not okay with his using it as political football or to assuage his fragile frigging ego. I don’t think we should be there much longer but pulling out abruptly, with little forethought or planning, is reckless in the extreme. Adam and John are both right here. We shouldn’t be there but if we are going to be there, we have to do things in as responsible manner as possible. This shoot from the hip, political bullcrap isn’t responsible.

  83. 83
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @NotMax: Depends whether Israel is or is not occupying the Sinai.

  84. 84
    WTF Jefferson was a progressive says:

    You cannot kill or terminate an idea. And a narrative, once weaponized, does not die easily, not as easily as the true believers. If they did, we wouldn’t be running down Nazis in America again. Our children and grandchildren may have to deal with it themselves in another 30 to 50 years. Daesh,or Isis, is probably no different in that sense. It is bulletproof, and probably more dangerous than the weaponized narratives of fascism. It has a much more robust religious component. But the God is rarely ever as important to the true believers as the Satan figure in their narrative. Stay or leave, we’ll likely find ourselves back at square one in due course. However, I’d prefer a Jan Vermeer at the canvas than a Jackson Pollock in this instance.

    “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.”
    Eric Hoffer, The True Believer
    ::waves to Adam::

  85. 85
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    Too tired to offer anything more substantive than this: When I heard this my first thought was, “Good.” My 2nd thought was, “These guys could fuck up a wet dream.” Everything I have read since reinforces that take. BUT… this part

    This dynamic has been the case in Afghanistan for years, which is why the best thing that can happen in the Afghan theater of operations is a negotiated settlement and a withdrawal of almost all US military. Any ongoing mission in Afghanistan, provided the Afghans would be interested, should be all about political and economic development, which can be accomplished a lot more effectively by civilian subject matter experts from the civilian agencies of the US government and our coalition partners and allies. This, however, is not the case in Syria.personnel.

    makes me want to point out that this dumb fuck carpenter has looked at the evidence and ascertained that the best case scenario is not happening in Afghanistan either. In fact, I was saying that invading Afghanistan was stupid back in 2001, and knew I was right when we sent a bunch of CIA agents in with pallet loads of cash with which to rent the Northern Alliance. (what’s the old saying? “You can’t buy an Afghani, but you sure can rent one.”?)

    I knew a long time ago that Afghanistan was a lost cause, and it has become obvious that the “best thing” is not going to happen in Syria either. Partly because we are too cheap to invest the necessary funds, but also (mostly?) because our opponents are a hell of a lot more stubborn than we are. What have they got to lose? Their lives? Sheeeeeit….

    At some point, one has to say, “no sense throwing good money after bad.”

    That being said, pretty sure trump will fuck that up too.

  86. 86
    Jay says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Because of the Civil War, the Intervention, Israel, Syria and the latest Sawdi ratfucking, and of course, the attacks out of Syria by Safilist terrorists,

    The Lebanese have started adopting a national identity, more than a tribal/faction/cultural/religious one.

  87. 87
    NotMax says:

    @Adam L. Silverman

    Realizing the technical pitfalls of doing so, would you consider adding the Palestinian Authority to your list?

    @Adam L. Silverman

    Um, because they’ve announced a timeline?

  88. 88
    Josie says:

    Thank you, Adam, for a cogent, well written post. I wish it could be more widely disseminated. As others have written, we are lucky to have you.

  89. 89
    Dan B says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I understand Putin benefits from chaos but it seems that Erdogan aims for a full blown war and possible genocide of the Kurds. The scale of the chaos could render access to the port (not sure of the geography) problematic. And does Putin have leverage over Erdogan? Seems like Putin’s treatment of Muslims, except Assad, complicates the three dimensional chess.

    Although the Syrian Civil War has been devastating and partially a genocide.

  90. 90
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @NotMax: Yes, the Palestinian Territories count. I didn’t include them not because they’re not part of the Levant, but because they’re not a recognized state.

  91. 91
    B.B.A. says:

    I’m with Cole. Withdraw all the troops, the sooner the better.

  92. 92
    Gin & Tonic says:

    Since respectful pedantry has been approved, a correction of “Caucuses” to “Caucasus” might be in order.

  93. 93
    joel hanes says:

    Commenters are encouraged to pedantically criticize anything I contribute here.
    I aspire to write meticulously correct prose, and always appreciate having my errors and missteps pointed out so that I can avoid them in the future.

  94. 94
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @joel hanes: Oh well, shit, fuck, you came to the right place.

  95. 95
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Adam L Silverman:
    Obama’s decision? It was decided for him when W Bush could not negotiate a SOFA with Iraq, which left US forces with no legal right to remain.

  96. 96
    Procopius says:

    @Dan B:

    How can Putin contain this?

    Well, Putin is on good terms with Erdogan, who goes to Moscow from time to time. The two countries have a huge pipeline project going on, so they have interests which are aligned. Russia seems to have been more effective at containing ISIS than America was. It’s possible Putin may be able to talk Erdogan out of his dream of restoring the Ottoman Empire. If not, I guess the Kurds will suffer.

  97. 97
    Sam says:

    I also have some direct experience in Iraq, 07-08. I disagree with Adam. 1) our policies in the Middle East, for a variety of reasons, have never been particularly effective in garnering trustworthy partners or any real movement towards our values. 2) agree on refugees, but we didn’t cause that problem and it won’t be fixed for a long time. We are good at hadr , so we can do that. 3) agree on isis, but we can use SOF, drones and other tools that we employ globally. Also, the homeland is a vastly harder target now.

    To return to point 1): I came back from my time in Iraq thoroughly convinced that we have no significant corps of friends in the region, nor do we have any prospect of garnering same. We have a bunch of transactional relationships. None of them has done us much good. Some might make an exception for Israel; I do not.

    So nope, I don’t buy that there is any overriding interest that requires our soldiers to sit in the middle of a wasps nest trying to make things better. It won’t work.

  98. 98
    Procopius says:


    Is it also helpful to Russia to keep the area destabilized in order to influence oil prices?

    I think not, but it’s very helpful to both Israel and Saudi Arabia.
    However, thanks to MbS’s horrendous murder of Khashoggi, there was a conference in Ankara on 27-8 October between France, Germany, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Russia in which KSA promised to stop sending money, arms, and ammunition to ISIS and to start truce talks with Yemen. This may lead to an end to the civil wars. Once the American forces pull out the Syrian Arab Army (Syrian government forces) and the FSA (supported by Turkey) will be able to attack the ISIS positions without risk of harming U.S. troops.

  99. 99
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Amir Khalid: Not my tweet.

  100. 100
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Gin & Tonic: Thanks.

  101. 101
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Sam: Where were you assigned in Iraq?

  102. 102
    Sam says:

    @Adam L Silverman: mostly Taji. Also Falcon and Kalsu, with the inevitable stint at Victory. I led a civilian team doing BN/CO support. I am an egghead, not a warrior.

  103. 103
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Sam: Hammer. We inherited from 3/3 ID. We appropriated a couple of CAT As from Falcon. I spent very little time at Taji, just the week the command group, command staff, senior staff, and BN commanders and their senior staff were at the COIN Academy. Shoot me an email if you like.

  104. 104
    Sam says:

    @Adam L Silverman: yeh my opinions can be pretty strong on the ME. I read a lot of stuff, have yet to see the light. It is part of my duties but I’d rather think about other issues. Seems like 9-11 made us all crazy and then here we are 17 years later still playing wack-a-mole. Too many moles to whack, ineffective. I’d go on but I won’t…

  105. 105
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Sam: No worries. There is no argument from me about whack a mole. Nor about not having a lot of real friends in the region, but that part of my post wasn’t only about fostering trust within the region.This move will be noted far and wide. Especially if Turkey rolls over the Kurds shortly after we pull out.

  106. 106
    J R in WV says:


    What the hell are you doing up at this time of night?

    Blech! ;-)

  107. 107
    J R in WV says:

    @Amir Khalid:

    Yeah, but that was a Republican talking… everything is Obama’s fault, 9.11, fall of Soviet Union, Brexit, everything!!

  108. 108
    sgrAstar says:

    @debbie: I would like to rec this comment 10,000 times. Spoken as a professional writer. :)

  109. 109
    Dan B says:

    @Procopius: Thanks. I vaguely remember the pipeline and Erdogan photo ops with Putin. That’s good news but if Erdogan goes all out against the Kurds…. Just gotta hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and read lots of posts about kittehs.

  110. 110
    James E Powell says:

    Have any Villagers declared that this, finally, is the day that Trump became president?

  111. 111
    CaseyL says:

    I’ve toyed with the thought that the US should simply pull out of the Mid East entirely. I can’t think of anything good that’s come of our involvement there. Only agony.

  112. 112
    Sam says:

    @Adam L Silverman: adam im not defending the way the decision was made, which should scare everyone. I just happen to agree with most of the substance if the decision. I feel somewhat warmly.towards the Kurds, but we wont support independence so they end up screwed.

  113. 113
    low-tech cyclist says:

    Thanks for the overview, Adam – I don’t think I would have come across a decent summary of what’s going on in Syria if you hadn’t written this. One of the great things about this blog is that it has front-pagers like you and Cheryl Rofer and David Anderson who have serious expertise in your respective fields.

  114. 114
    Ezra says:

    “ISIS has lost its physical holdings – the self declared caliphate – this actually makes them more dangerous, not less.”

    If conquering ISIS’s territory made the problem worse, why did we do it (or help others do it)? We should have been helping them to take over even more territory, cuz that would exacerbate their problems in governing it, eh?

  115. 115
    Chris says:


    I don’t know how the Kurds factored into things. But as I recall, the northern (i.e. Kurdish) part of Iraq was originally supposed to be part of the French mandate. The British got wind of there being oil in the region, though, before the French did, so they lobbied hard, and eventually successfully, to have it assigned to their mandate. And the rest was history.

    But I’m pretty sure the Kurds were going to get stuck into a majority-Arab country either way.

  116. 116
    Chris says:


    It’s occurred to me before that there’s probably something to be said for pulling out altogether and letting Russia and China have fun trying to keep the region stable. Basically toss them the live bomb and let them wrestle with it.

  117. 117

    @Adam L Silverman: I see. I wonder if perhaps there is a deal there. This is hugely advantageous to Russia as well. Erdogan and Putin ought to be bitter enemies, but perhaps in this they have made common cause. It is all very 19-teens, isn’t it?

    BTW, thank you for providing an informed analysis!

Comments are closed.