The United States has increased the number of its troops in eastern Syria, especially in oil-rich regions over the past few months, and even President Donald Trump in his tweets has pointed to the importance of Syrian oil and US dominance over the oilfields. Now, the question is what are the strategic implications of the increase in the number of US troops in eastern Syria? In response, it can be said that the United States continues to maintain its influence and part at a minimal cost to play a role in the developments in West Asian region.
A glance at US foreign policy in the past decade shows that the United States has sought to reduce its military presence in the West Asian region due to regional conditions as well as the high costs of direct intervention. This issue has been raised in the electoral slogans as well as the stances of Barack Obama and Donald Trump in many different ways. The US goal of reducing military presence does not mean to exercise less influence in the region, but a shift from direct balancing strategy to offshore balancing.
In offshore balancing, the United States will continue to reduce its political, military, security, and economic costs in the region and at the same time maintain a level of its regional role by strengthening its political and security allies. Adoption of this strategy appears to have faced a major challenge in the name of the Axis of Resistance led by the Islamic Republic of Iran in the West Asian region. In recent years, Iran has been able to improve its position in regional equations by playing an effective role in regional developments such as the crises in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, as well as managing its nuclear case. This has hampered the proper pursuit of an offshore balancing strategy, forcing the United States to maintain part of its forces in the region.
One of these regions is eastern Syria, where, notwithstanding Trump’s statement, we have not only not witnessed a decline in the number of US troops, but even in recent months we have seen an increase to that effect. Looking at the recent developments in the West Asian region and Syria, the reasons for adopting this policy and its strategic implications can be described as follows:
- Playing an unrelenting role in Syrian crisis: One of the characteristics of the actor claiming to be hegemonic is his active involvement in regional and international dossiers. Given that Iran and Russia as US rivals, hold the upper hand in the Syrian case, and that the only case that has prompted continued US presence in the case, is its limited military presence in eastern Syria under the pretext of supporting the allied forces, US officials seem to believe that by reducing their military presence in Syria, they have effectively reduced the level of American involvement in the Syrian case and have no further bargaining chip, which is not acceptable to them as a hegemon. That is why the United States is continuing to maintain or even increase its level of engagement in the Syrian developments.
- Managing Oil Markets: Many economists believe that given the recent oil market developments such as more output and less demand as well as US entry into the market as an exporter, Washington is seeking to manage its oil markets while maintaining a favorable price and increase oil export. Looking at US policies in recent years, it can be said that by using sanctions tools and through controlled chaos, Washington is seeking to reduce oil exports by other countries and find new clients for its own oil. These experts analyze the oil sanctions against Iran and Venezuela, as well as the crisis in oil-exporting countries such as the Qatar crisis in this line. Although Syria does not have a large share of the oil market but US dominance of these resources can be a good incentive to pursue this US policy.
- US Regional Allies Push for Continued Presence in Syria: Given the growing strength of the Axis of Resistance and the Islamic Republic of Iran’s leading role in the West Asian region, US regional allies are seeking its active involvement in regional cases. These allies, especially the Zionist regime and Saudi Arabia, with their lobbying in Washington, are pressuring US officials to continue their presence in Syria. So even after Trump ordered US troops out of Syria in 2018 these states voiced dissatisfaction with the decision and used all their political power to block the implementation of the decision, and given the increase in US troops in Syria, they seems to have been successful in their attempt.
- Growing threats against US Troops in Iraq: Due to increased tension between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the US in Iraq, the possibility of increased US casualties in Iraq has gone up. The United States appears to be seeking to help reduce its military casualties by moving troops to Syria while maintaining its role in Iraq.
- Reduce friction with Turkey: The presence of US forces in northeast Syria due to the Kurdish-Turkish tensions has created many challenges in US-Turkey relations, and the US appears to be managing this tension. Deployment of US troops on Syria’s oil rich regions which is somewhat distant from the Turkish border, could prevent friction and escalation of tension between Ankara and Washington, as well as continued US support for the forces enjoying American backing in Syria.
To sum it up, although the increase in the number of US troops deployed in eastern Syria cannot significantly affect major developments and the security order in the West Asian region due to its small number, but it could contribute to continuation of Syrian and Iraqi crises as well as affect the oil markets. It seems that the foreign policy apparatus of the Islamic Republic of Iran should, with careful observation of the developments, adopt appropriate policies to reduce US presence and influence in the West Asian region.