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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.

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"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

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A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest — triggering widespread power outages and flooding.

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The big picture: In a joint interview with his wife, Mercedes, Matt Schlapp also refused to share their vaccination status. And he told corporate America "you blew it" by embracing vaccine mandates and liberal social stances that have alienated GOP voters and politicians.

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Pelosi expects “billionaire’s tax” to pay for Biden social spending

Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Sunday she expects the chamber to pass the bipartisan infrastructure plan by week’s end, and alternatives to corporate tax hikes and a “billionaires tax” will be used to finance President Biden’s promised expansion to the social safety net.

Why it matters: Pelosi’s comments come as House and Senate leaders try to wrap up a deal. What will get cut — and how the remainder will be paid — are linchpins to a final agreement.

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