The news today that the Trump administration is to withdraw all US troops from Syria and half of its contingent from Afghanistan is of great importance. This is the first president for a very long time to take the view that the USA does not have to police every world situation and, indeed, can no longer afford to.
There are sharp differences of opinion within the USA on this change of tack. Many want America to hang on to its dominant role. There are also paradoxes. The left may now emerge as the war party. People who in the past have seen American imperialism as a rightist policy may now be somewhat confounded and confused what view to take.
Trump was elected, inter alia, on a platform of troop withdrawal and was persuaded to keep troops in Syria and Afghanistan against his better judgement, but, presumably, now believes it is time to do what he thinks best even though it runs head on against the political establishment.
The withdrawal from Syria will have a number of consequences. It will probably lead the Kurds to make some kind of deal with Assad's government and this should lead to a stabilisation of the country. This means that
- the end of the Syrian war may well now be in sight. This could be good news for millions of Syrians including a great many who have become refugees.
- the Assad regime will be more secure. Some will lament this as the survival of an autocrat. Others will say that this is the only way to have stability in such a turbulent region.
- the Russians will have made a considerable step forward in consolidating their influence in the Middle East. To many Arabs, the Russians will now appear to be more effective and reliable allies than the Americans.
- the policy of fermenting "Arab Spring" uprisings now appears to have had rather poor overall results with defeat in Syria, military take over in Egypt, chaos in Libya, and the great wave of refugees in Europe.
Partial withdrawal from Afghanistan will probably lead to some further advance of the Taliban and, possibly, growing Russian or Pakistani influence in the country.
Nonetheless, this could also be a step toward letting Middle Eastern countries sort out their own affairs, which ultimately could be to the good, leading to a balance of power more in keeping with the realities on the ground.
When we take stock, the supposed aim of establishing "freedom and democracy" does not look that convincing. Has it just been a cover for promoting certain interests? The West's strongest allies in the region have not consistently been the democratic ones.
Trump can, perhaps, be seen as acting as a business man. He has taken over America Inc and had a look at the accounts, seen a big pile of debt and a number of loss making projects and is making cuts. Many great countries in history have been bankrupted by involvement in wars. It is an open question whether Trump is saving the USA from a similar fate or jeopardising vital US interests. It is also an interesting question whether this is leading us toward a multi-polar world politically.