Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa Bay news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Charlotte news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

A Syrian Democratic Forces fighter attending the funeral of a slain Kurdish commander in the northeastern city of Qamishli, Syria, on Dec. 6, 2018. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images

The problem with President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria lies not so much with the decision itself as with the hasty manner in which it was made.

Why it matters: Trump first shared the news in a phone call with President Erdogan, leaving the State Department stunned, the Pentagon unprepared and the U.S.’ Kurdish allies in Syria alarmed and betrayed. By failing to prepare the ground, Trump risks weakening the Kurds’ hand, exposing them to attack, and reviving ISIS.

The administration had justified the U.S. presence in Syria with three objectives:

  1. To roll back Iranian influence: From the outset, this aim was unattainable: Iran is deeply entrenched in Syria, and the suggestion that a few thousand U.S. troops could dislodge it was always derisory.
  2. To fully defeat ISIS: This is a more achievable goal, though it arguably need not require U.S. troops on the ground, and an open-ended U.S. presence was neither wise nor sustainable. However, ISIS is adept at exploiting disorder, and if the U.S. withdrawal leads to a military free-for-all in the northeast (involving Kurdish, Syrian and Turkish forces), it could use the ensuing chaos to stage a comeback.
  3. Protect Syrian Kurds from Ankara and Damascus: This is the most practically and morally important objective. Kurdish forces had fought ISIS at Washington’s behest and were relying on the U.S. presence to deter a potential Turkish or Syrian regime offensive. Indeed, Washington had discouraged them from reaching a deal with Damascus aimed at ensuring their protection, claiming there was no need.

Now, Kurdish forces will have to rush to negotiate an agreement with the regime from a far weaker bargaining position. Should the U.S. depart in the absence of a Kurdish understanding with either Damascus or Ankara, the Kurds could face an assault by one or both.

What’s next: If Trump does not once more reverse course, his and his administration’s priority should be to pressure Turkey not to attack, and to provide the Kurds with the necessary space and time to reach a deal with Damascus that restores Syrian sovereignty over the northeast, places Syrian forces at the Turkish border, and grants Kurds protection and a degree of self-rule.

Robert Malley is president and CEO of the International Crisis Group.

Go deeper

In photos: D.C. and U.S. states on alert for pre-inauguration violence

National Guard troops stand behind security fencing with the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building behind them, on Jan. 16. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Security has been stepped up in Washington, D.C., and state capitols across the U.S. as authorities brace for potential violence this weekend.

Driving the news: Following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by some supporters of President Trump, the FBI has said there could be armed protests in D.C. and in all 50 state capitols in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

14 hours ago - Politics & Policy

The new Washington

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Axios subject-matter experts brief you on the incoming administration's plans and team.

Rep. Lou Correa tests positive for COVID-19

Lou Correa. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) announced on Saturday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Correa is the latest Democratic lawmaker to share his positive test results after last week's deadly Capitol riot. Correa did not shelter in the designated safe zone with his congressional colleagues during the siege, per a spokesperson, instead staying outside to help Capitol Police.

You’ve caught up. Now what?

Sign up for Mike Allen’s daily Axios AM and PM newsletters to get smarter, faster on the news that matters.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!