Following the announcement of the decision of the U.S. to withdraw from Syria last December, debates about this decision continued in the first week of the new year. In addition to statements from U.S. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, this week National Security Adviser John Bolton and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford will visit the Turkish capital Ankara together with U.S. Syria envoy James Jeffrey to negotiate the withdrawal with Turkish authorities. These debates should bring clarity about the nature of coordination and cooperation between Turkish and American forces in northern Syria.
Just like previous critical decisions by the U.S. in foreign policy, this decision also brought a lot of confusion for countries in the region. Since the announcement of “imminent withdrawal,” there have been multiple statements that complicated and confused the timeline and type of withdrawal of the U.S. forces. First, President Trump tweeted about a slow but coordinated withdrawal, which raised the question of the meaning of “slow.”
Following a report in regards to a timeline of 90 days, another report argued that it would take four months for U.S. forces to leave Syria. However, President Trump, in his first press conference before his Cabinet meeting, contended that he never gave a deadline, but U.S. forces will definitely leave Syria sooner or later.
There are important challenges in Syria following the end of the civil war in the country. Countries like Turkey have long been advocating a thorough process that will stabilize and reconstruct Syria and ensure the safe return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their homes. In particular, existing humanitarian crises need to be dealt with by the collective effort of the international to stabilize the country.
There is not enough emphasis on human security following the end of the war in Syria. So far, most stabilization efforts have focused on the more conventional understanding of security in Syria. Even on this issue, however, significant questions are unresolved. The security of the country can only be provided by eradicating terrorist groups from Syrian territories and a meaningful political process that achieves effective and functional governance structures in the country.
In fact, it necessitates the commitment of the nation states that were involved in Syria and the prevention of actions by potential spoilers in this process.
All of these challenges require a political process and a road map for the future involvement of the nation states in these procedures. The uncertainty and unpredictability of the actions of these actors are extremely risky. Thus, the region requires a clear timeline with regard to the nature of the U.S. withdrawal and coordination in this process by the U.S. with its allies.
[Daily Sabah, 5 January 2019]