US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops from Syria in October, but from late October, the US Department of Defense (Pentagon) announced a plan to bolster its military presence in northeast Syria to “protect” the oil fields in the area and prevent ISIS from seizing these regions again. According to some US media reports, the number of US troops in the country will increase to 900. Given the decision by US troops to return to Deir ez Zor and the presence of armoured personnel carriers to continue occupying the Syrian oil fields, now the question is what is Trump’s true strategy towards Syria?
To analyze this issue, one must distinguish between Donald Trump as a natural person and a legal person as President. As a real person, Trump believes that the American military buildups, especially after the 9/11, have been very costly for the country and wasted US funds. And since these campaigns have wreaked havoc on American power, this path must be reformed. He had mentioned this issue many times before, and by raising such issues he could win the election. He still believes that by emphasizing that the US should end the endless wars he can boost his vote base for the 2020 election and increase his chances of winning.
It is a personal belief and, of course, awareness and a sound understanding of the demands of a wide range of American people that the President of the United States has realized and is trying to gain the support of those unhappy American people by making these statements and through tweets and speeches.
But at the same time, the legal personality of Donald Trump as President of the United States must also be taken into account; he is not able to carry out all of his plans and positions and has to take into account the positions and viewpoints of the ruling establishment. Indeed, institutions such as the Department of Defense and currents within American parties are strongly opposed to Trump’s approach and believe that the American Empire should be maintained.
So there seems to be some sort of unwritten division of work in Washington; that is, the President is free to comment, but on the other hand, he has a lot of restrictions on his policies. For this reason, every time Trump has emphasized the end of the war and the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, there has been a surge of opposition and protest within the United States. These oppositions are not Democratic and Republican, and even some Republicans are strongly opposed to the idea. They believe if such policies are translated into action it will endanger America’s standing in the international system and strengthen US enemies and rivals in the world, especially the West Asian region. So Donald Trump’s promises will not be put into action and even if it does it will be trivial.
For example, of the 2,000 troops deployed in Syria, it is said that about50 of them have been relocated from a region in northeast Syria to western Iraq within a distance of 200-300 kilometres.
Interestingly, estimates suggest that the number of US troops has increased during the Trump presidency and that the United States is said to have about 700,000 troops in Iraq, which is slightly higher than President Barack Obama’s term.
Therefore, it is understandable to see these contradictions in Washington’s policies, words, and actions towards Syria.
At present, what we are witnessing in the field of action is the will of a group in the ruling establishment who would not pay much attention to the president’s remarks and move on with their work.
Under the current circumstances, the US will maintain a presence in Syria, in the form that it will relinquish less important regions either to Turkey or even indirectly to Russia or Damascus central government, but it will still keep sensitive centres like oil wells or strategic points that it thinks could cut off the communication lines between Iran and the Mediterranean under control. Such presence will either be done through US forces or through proxy forces that will operate in the region. As such, the US presence in Syria is likely to decline gradually, and this presence will continue to be more practical.