US President Donald Trump’s decision to end America’s military presence in Syria by removing all 2,000 US soldiers there, and to cut by half the US troop deployment of 14,000 in Afghanistan, has been assailed by his domestic friends and critics alike, and come in the face of contrary military and diplomatic advice. It goes against the grain of the core military and international security thinking of the American establishment, which is underscored by the resignation of defence secretary Jim Mattis, a highly-regarded former US marine general, in protest against the President’s decision to order the American military out of Syria.
Mr Mattis’ resignation letter underlines the need to ensure that in no part of the world may any forces be permitted to cohere that could build the capacity and the organisation to challenge the American mainland and US interests across the world.
Ever since Pearl Harbour in 1941, but especially after the September 11, 2001 attacks on America, this has been at the heart of US policy, which has been criticised as being in the “neo-colonial” mould. However, America’s friends and some others believe US power and hegemony is needed for the stability and security of all regions of the world.
However, the US President has asked in a tweet why America should be the “policeman of the Middle East”. He thinks ISIS has been defeated by the US in Iraq and Syria — territories where it was entrenched — and with its defeat other countries in the region should manage their security themselves and pay for it.
While this reasoning may appeal to “anti-colonial” forces, the latter should be mindful that in other spheres, especially in trade and building of digital power — which derives from advances in microchips and in artificial intelligence — on which may rest the future leadership of the world, Mr Trump leans in the direction of the US wielding overarching power and advantage over all nations. This of course is an essential prerequisite of the neo-colonial belief system in our times, whether practised by the US or China.
The US President has disregarded the view of influential critics — in the US and among allies, notably Britain and Israel, that pulling troops out of Syria will leave the field open for the spread of Russia’s and Iran’s influence in West Asia. He is evidently confident that these nations do not really challenge America, though he has not advanced arguments to buttress this understanding. Mr Trump appears more focused on dealing with China.
In Afghanistan, the Trump administration has had a reconciliation process started with the Taliban, but seems almost ready to comply with the Taliban’s condition that all foreign forces must depart. India needs to look at nuances to see how it can continue to remain meaningfully engaged with Afghanistan even after US force levels are drawn down, leaving the Afghan military more vulnerable to Pakistani activity.