Skip to main content
April 28, 2018 explosions appearing in the skyline of a southern district of the Syrian capital Damascus, during regime strikes targeting the Islamic State group in the Palestinian camp of Yarmuk, and neighbouring districts.
(Photo Credit RAMI AL SAYED/AFP/Getty Images)

Post-Conflict Stabilization in Syria and the Potential Impact of U.S. Military Withdrawal

Jonas Parello-Plesner

View PDF


President Donald Trump wants to pull US troops out of Syria, and he recently froze $200 million in stabilization funds for the country. Though this appeals to his domestic political base and is in keeping with his campaign promises to avoid doling out American taxpayers’ money for unnecessary wars reconstruction in the Middle East, many in his administration and beyond harbor reservations about a too-hasty withdrawal.

First of all, the military job of defeating ISIS is not over. Turkey’s incursion from the north has made the endgame harder because many of the Syrian Kurdish SDF forces, who had fought ISIS valiantly, have redeployed there. And in the long run, both allies and US civilian advisors need the US military umbrella to continue the stabilization work.

Trump insists that allies and partners should pay more. But the much-touted Saudi Arabian-led forces and funding for Syria have not materialized. The UN could gradually do more, but it needs the consent of Assad and Russia. And although European allies have stepped up contributions, it will not alleviate the shortfall if the US continues the freeze on stabilization.

It seemed that a Trumpian equilibrium had been reached in Iraq, where a distinction was made between stabilization, which is not considered nation-building, and reconstruction, which is. Trump has abandoned that distinction in Syria by freezing the stabilization funds, which are also used for demining Raqqa, the former ISIS capital, to make it somewhat safe for refugees to return to.

Stabilization in Syria is not only a necessity for refugees returning home, it is also viewed as a bulwark against a quick return of ISIS. By pulling out too soon, the US would lose options to curb Iran and to influence a political solution in Syria. There are longer-term consequences to watch out for, as there were for Obama when he pulled out of Iraq. There is much at stake around Trump’s decision in the coming months.

View PDF

Related Articles

A South China Sea Change?

Aparna Pande & Satoru Nagao

As Chinese construction and militarization proceed apace, the United States and its allies are ramping up their activity in the South China Sea...

Continue Reading

Erbakan, Kısakürek, and the Mainstreaming of Extremism in Turkey

Svante E. Cornell

Turkish leadership’s rhetoric is increasingly similar to that of America’s adversaries and is only rarely that of a partner and ally...

Continue Reading

Trump Moves Forward with North Korea Negotiations

Michael Pillsbury

On June 2, Michael Pillsbury appeared on Fox News to discuss the North Korea summit, slated to take place as originally planned on June 12...

Watch Now