WASHINGTON — President Trump has defended his shameful abandonment of our Kurdish allies in Syria, declaring that “I was elected on getting out of these ridiculous endless wars” that have left America “bogged down, watching over a quagmire.” Listening to the president, Americans might think that we still have large numbers of U.S. troops fighting on fronts across the Middle East. We do not.
The days when we deployed hundreds of thousands of troops in the Middle East are long gone. Today, we have 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, about 5,000 in Iraq and just 1,000 in Syria. That is a grand total of about 20,000 troops in all three countries. By contrast, we have about 37,950 U.S. troops in Germany, 12,750 in Italy, 53,900 in Japan, and 28,500 in South Korea — a total of over 133,000. In fact, we now have three times more troops deployed in Spain (3,200) than we do in Syria.
Trump likes to say he “defeated” the Islamic State. Actually, the bulk of the fighting was done by our Kurdish allies, trained and supported by U.S. Special Operations forces. As Gen. Joseph Votel, who served as commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, explains, “Over four years, the SDF freed tens of thousands of square miles and millions of people from the grip of ISIS. Throughout the fight, it sustained nearly 11,000 casualties. By comparison, six U.S. service members, as well as two civilians, have been killed in the anti-ISIS campaign.”
The Kurds bore the burden of the fight and the brunt of the casualties, and they drove the Islamic State from its physical caliphate. But the terrorists are far from defeated. They still have tens of thousands of fighters and vast financial resources. If we take our boot off their necks, they will come roaring back — just like they did in Iraq on President Barack Obama’s watch.
Without U.S. support, the Kurds will have no choice but to turn to Russia, Iran and the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad for protection. As a result, Iran will own all of Syria — giving it a strategic anchor in the Middle East and a base from which to attack Israel. Trump has made containing Iran’s expansion a centerpiece of his Middle East policy. Abandoning the Kurds will empower Iran as never before.
The cry that America is fighting “endless wars” is a canard. Our force levels in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are a shadow of their former selves, and U.S. forces are not doing the fighting but rather arming and training allies who are doing the fighting for us. That is the right strategy. But after watching Trump abandon our allies in Syria to be slaughtered, why would anyone step forward to help America in the fight against Islamist radicalism? The president can’t have it both ways. If you don’t want American forces fighting “endless wars,” then you can’t betray your allies.