French President Emmanuel Macron pre-gamed his state visit to the United States with a call for continued, and even expanded, American involvement in Syria. He argued that the United States and other countries “will have a very important role to play in order to create this new Syria and ensure Syrian people to decide for the future [sic].” Otherwise, Macron claimed, a post-ISIS Syria will be left “to the Iranian regime, Bashar al-Assad and his guys, and they will prepare the new war. They will fuel the new terrorists.”
While bold in the wake of the United States and France’s 2011 disastrous war for regime change in Libya, this was not a new position for an eager French president, who earlier claimed “Our responsibility goes beyond the fight against Daesh (ISIS) and that it was also a humanitarian responsibility on the ground and a long-term responsibility to build peace.”
No matter how charming Macron is during his visit to Washington, President Trump should avoid being suckered into a longer and deeper involvement in Syria.
Let Syria Manage Its Own Local Politics
Macron’s position is at odds with what President Trump wants. Trump has been emphatic about Syria: “I want to get out, I want to bring the troops back home, I want to start rebuilding our nation.” Unsurprisingly, Trump is better connected to both American interests and the American people than the man who lives in the Élysée Palace in Paris.
It is not in our interests to do much more in Syria than clean up the fight against ISIS and come home. To do otherwise will embroil us in the complicated and dangerous quagmire that is the Syrian civil war. Do we really want to have to sort out the local politics of yet another country, deciding which groups who don’t share our values rule while running the risk of war with Russia?
U.S. foreign policy should be primarily focused on American safety and prosperity. Unfortunately, American leaders have strayed from those basic ends over the last 25 years. They’ve chased idealistic and ephemeral goals, like remaking the Middle East and enlarging the North Atlantic Treaty Organization further and further without considering the consequences.
The result has been overstretched soldiers and bulging budgets rather than peace and plenty. It has led to catastrophe in Iraq and Syria, “forever war” in Afghanistan, and American forces engaged around the globe in backwaters disconnected from our interests. Meanwhile, emerging powers like China must smirk seeing us focused on peripheral matters and largely local conflicts rather than core interests and the most salient threats.
It’s Not Our Job to Fix What Others Broke
This brings us back to Syria—France’s former colony—and Macron. The French president would have us think that we must usher in a “new Syria” for the sake of duty and our benefit. But how is that supposed to happen, even assuming that we had any such responsibility or interest?
It’s doubtful that Bashar al-Assad will simply walk away from hard-fought gains in the densely populated cities of Syria’s west, or that the Russians, who have a long-standing relationship with Syria and an important naval base in Tartus, will stand aside after recently extending the lease for 49 more years. If Assad won’t go, forcibly removing him will be costly and may even result in a U.S.-Russia clash over something not worth the fight.
Macron is also wrong in his interpretation of the Syrian situation post-ISIS. Should we leave, there will not be a vacuum of power in the region that the Iranians will newly fill. Syria and Iran have long been partners, going back decades to the 1970s through the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s to today’s close alliance.
The United States also bears no moral responsibility to fix what others have largely broken, even if the Iraq War we started was causally related to the pattern of destructive changes in the Middle East. If Assad wins, he and his allies will have an interest in rebuilding Syria as they see fit. So let them.
Our Duty Is to Our People First
Meanwhile, as Trump wisely understands, the United States can focus on rebuilding our own country, whether it is devoting scarce taxpayer money to our roads and bridges or to lowering the crushing debt that will squeeze us and our kids in the not-too-distant future.
The American people aren’t interested in more war or greater long-term security commitments that are unnecessary, costly, and at the expense of Americans for the benefit of others, whether in Syria or other hotspots. They’d like to see us rely on greater diplomacy and deterrence to keep us safe and free. Recent polling shows Americans do not believe our efforts in Iraq have made the United States or the Middle East safer, and they believe it’s time for our troops to come home.
The American people deserve a better foreign policy, one that puts our soldiers in harm’s way only when it is absolutely necessary for America’s safety, not for Macron’s “new Syria” while places like “old Detroit” suffer. This is the moral responsibility Trump bears as our president. Let the French take up an imperial burden if they wish, as they’ve eagerly done in the past. But leave us out and put American safety and interests first.