Originally appeared on The American Conservative.
Bolton is not giving up on keeping our illegal war in Syria going one way or another:
Some U.S. troops could remain in southern Syria for an undetermined amount of time even as American forces withdraw in coming months from the northern part of the country, a senior administration official said Friday.
Bolton’s comments are another piece of evidence that the Syria withdrawal announced last month won’t be as swift or complete as originally advertised. If there are any US forces staying in Syria for an “undetermined amount of time,” that would be a discouraging sign of how hard it has become for the US to liquidate any position overseas. That would mean that our illegal military presence continues without Congressional authorization, US forces would still be exposed to unnecessary risk in a country where they have no business being, and those troops would be tasked with “countering” Iran with even smaller numbers and fewer resources than they have now. It has all the flaws of the previous policy. Reducing the number of troops in an illegal war doesn’t fix the real problem. None of them should be there, and anything less than a full withdrawal just leaves the door open to a troop “surge” in the months and years that follow.
There are other reasons to think that US military involvement in Syria may not be ending anytime soon:
Turkey is asking the US to provide substantial military support, including airstrikes, transport and logistics, to allow Turkish forces to assume the main responsibility for fighting Islamic State militants in Syria, senior US officials say.
The Turkish requests are so extensive that, if fully met, the American military might be deepening its involvement in Syria instead of reducing it, the officials added. That would frustrate President Trump’s goal of transferring the mission of finishing off Islamic State to Turkey in the hope of forging an exit strategy for the US military to leave Syria.
Even if the US doesn’t agree to all of the Turkish requests, the report suggests that the US will still be involved in an illegal war in Syria for some time to come. The report quotes a State Department official as saying, “We have no timeline for our military forces to withdraw from Syria.” The lack of a timeline will make it extremely easy to drag out any withdrawal for so long that it would be difficult to distinguish it from the open-ended mission that it is supposed to be terminating.
If the US can’t extricate its forces quickly from a country where the military has no authorization to use force and no mandate to be there, it is hard to see how the US will ever be able to leave any of the places it has been at war in recent years. The US keeps adding new missions and commitments, but it is never able to shed any of them completely, no matter how irrelevant they are to our security.
Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.