The U.S. Isn’t Really Leaving Syria and Afghanistan

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U.S troops walk at their base in Logar province, Afghanistan August 4, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani - RC1128A43EE0

Even if American troops come home in a timely fashion, they will likely return before long.

Professor of political science at Swarthmore College
President Donald Trump caused a political furor when he announced in December that he would quickly withdraw all 2,000 American troops in Syria, together with half of the 14,000 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Democrats (and many Republicans) condemned the exit strategy as a boon for America’s enemies. Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned in protest, as did the special envoy for the counter-isis campaign, Brett McGurk, and the Pentagon chief of staff, Kevin Sweeney. Other prominent voices praised the drawdown. In The New York Times, for example, Robert Kaplan called the campaign in Afghanistan “a vestigial limb of empire, and it is time to let it go.” These critics and defenders of Trump’s decision have one thing in common: They share the assumption that Washington is actually getting out of Syria and Afghanistan.
But that’s not true.

In conventional campaigns against foreign countries, such as World War II, war and peace are clearly defined. The United States gears up for the fight and battles the enemy, there’s a surrender ceremony, and then the troops come home and Americans close the book. But in the modern era of complex civil wars and counterterrorism operations, a world power like the United States never really leaves.

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