SearchAmerica's latest unnecessary obsession: Iran in Syria

America's latest unnecessary obsession: Iran in Syria...
washingtonexaminer.com 30/11/2018 Military

Keywords:#2015, #AP, #Afghanistan, #American, #Barack_Obama, #Bashar_Assad, #Belgium, #Brussels, #Congress, #Constitution, #General_Assembly, #History, #ISIS, #Iran, #Iranian, #Iraq, #Islamic, #Islamic_State, #Masters, #Middle_East, #Military, #Obama, #Pentagon, #President, #Russia, #Russian, #September, #Syria, #Syrian, #Trump, #UN_General_Assembly, #Vietnam, #Washington, #Washingtonexaminer.com

by Jerrod Laber
& Alexander Moore
| November 29, 2018 12:00 AM
The Trump administration would be wise to pull American troops from the Syrian theater or, at the very least, seek congressional authorization for troops deployed with the expressed purpose of rolling back Iranian “gains” in Syria.

* * * (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Ambassador James Jeffrey, the U.S. Special Representative for Syria Engagement, disclosed to Russian reporters last week that U.S. and Russian mercenaries have clashed in Syria multiple times in the last several months. While he did not offer any specifics, he said “U.S. forces are legitimately in Syria, supporting local forces [in the fight against the Islamic State] ... they exercise the right of self-defense when they feel threatened.”
But the U.S. has admitted that ISIS has largely been defeated, and the Trump administration has ordered troops to stay put indefinitely in Syria to counter against Iranian influence, the administration’s current comprehensive foreign policy bogeyman. As national security adviser John Bolton told the UN General Assembly in September, “We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias.”
America's obsession with Iran in Syria perfectly encapsulates how our foreign policy is plagued by mission creep, and it could have disastrous consequences. We don’t need to stick around Syria forever to counter Iran — they pose no significant threat to our interests in the Middle East. The U.S. should divest from this conflict.
entanglement in Syria has evolved from solidarity for pro-democracy protesters to thousands of boots on the ground. President Barack Obama formally called on Bashar Assad to step down in 2011. Obama later drew his infamous “red line” around the use of chemical weapons, which he said would force the U.S. to intervene in the conflict militarily. Unable to gin up support for intervention after chemical weapons were used, he instead worked with Russia to unsuccessfully destroy Assad’s chemical weapon stockpile. Congress approved a plan in 2014 to arm the Syrian rebel groups, and the U.S. began airstrikes on the Islamic State. Then, in late 2015, Obama authorized boots on the ground to assist rebel forces.
Enter President Trump. He banned Syrian refugees as one of his first acts in office and has ordered two separate, very public missile strikes on the regime in response to chemical weapons use. Now, with more than 2,000 troops currently in tow, the administration announced these troops will leave Syria when Iran does, joining the ranks of their colleagues in Iraq and Afghanistan as forever-war-fighters.
Our goal in Syria has evolved from ousting Assad to containing Iran’s influence. What’s been missing from this changing mission is any reasonable American interest. Assad isn’t going anywhere, the Islamic State is a shell of its former self, and involving ourselves in another country’s civil war rarely works out well.
Making matters worse is the dubious legality of this open-ended and vaguely defined mission in Syria. While the Constitution’s War Powers Clause delegates the power to make war to Congress, the Trump administration has completely disregarded what is legal and constitutional, instead deciding that they need no legal authority from Congress at all to deploy American forces in Syria perpetually. The decisive defeat suffered by ISIS further bolsters the notion that U.S. troops in Syria are in need of serious legal justification.
While the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Forces Against Terrorists acted as the tenuous legal justification for U.S. troops in Syria to fight ISIS, there is no semblance of legality for troops expressly postured against a perceived Iranian menace. Exacerbating this issue is that Iran is highly unlikely to “leave” after investing significant blood and treasure in the preservation of the Assad regime, putting the U.S. and Iran on a potentially escalatory collision course in Syria without a congressional debate, let alone authorization, for such a war.
While the preservation of a friendly regime in Syria is of the utmost strategic importance to Iran, vital American interests are negligibly affected either way, creating a severe imbalance of interests over the fate of Syria. Iran has invested in Syria, and with an Assad victory in sight, it would be blissfully unrealistic to expect Iran to capitulate in the face of a few thousand U.S. troops, giving up the regional deterrence Iran’s strategic position in Syria provides.
Moreover, it’s not hard to imagine American troops postured in Syria acting as a tripwire for a confrontation with Iran considering the clashes that have occurred between American forces and Russian mercenaries.
History furnishes us with examples of the U.S. sleepwalking into disastrous quagmires. In Vietnam, the Gulf of Tonkin incident proved to be a sad case study of how American forces deployed in defense of peripheral interests can become tripwires that lead to catastrophic foreign policy choices.
This is the crux of what makes the Trump administration’s Syria policy so counterproductive and dangerous considering the negligible geostrategic interests at stake for the U.S. in Syria. While Iran hawks breathlessly inflate the Iranian threat to epic proportions, taking a clear-eyed look at the region’s strategic balance shows a weak country with a half-century qualitative military gap, porous defense outlays that are dwarfed by those of its regional adversaries, and a military posture assessed by the Pentagon as being defensive in nature.
Iran does not possess the means to project meaningful power at the existential expense of its neighbors. Indeed, Iran even seems to be unable to protect one of its own consulates in Iraq, a country that hawks claim is now an Iranian vassal state. This, in conjunction with the vastly overstated strategic imperatives of the Middle East, makes a vaguely delineated and inflated Iran threat a highly questionable justification for indefinitely posturing troops in Syria and risking another disastrous war of choice in the Middle East.
The Trump administration would be wise to pull American troops from the Syrian theater or, at the very least, seek congressional authorization for troops deployed with the expressed purpose of rolling back Iranian “gains” in Syria. Ideally, this would be done within the context of a broader reprioritization of U.S. strategic interests in the greater Middle East.
At best, the current strategy is redundant. At worst, it risks a war that would make Iraq look easy.
Jerrod A. Laber (@JerrodALaber) is a Washington, D.C.-based foreign policy writer and journalist and a contributor for Young Voices. Alexander Moore (@Moore_Alex01) holds a Masters Degree in International Conflict and Security from the Brussels School of International Studies in Brussels, Belgium.
---We don’t need to stick around Syria forever to counter Iran — they pose no significant threat to our interests in the Middle East. ---...

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