Speaking at NATO headquarters on Friday, Secretary of Defense James Mattis reiterated his opposition to the idea of withdrawing US troops from Syria. He said any withdrawal before progress was made would be a “strategic blunder.”
Mattis’ position reflects those of a lot of top US cabinet officials, who have resisted President Trump’s talk of a quick withdrawal. He argues that the UN peace plan necessitates an ongoing US military presence.
On the one hand, Mattis suggests leaving too soon could give “the terrorists the opportunity to recover.” On the other hand, he also says that leaving would be exploited by the Assad government and its supporters.
This again sets out the US position that the UN plan necessitates regime change in Syria, something other supporters say is not the case. It also suggests a more or less permanent US presence in Syria, since there is virtually no chance the US will impose a favorable outcome.
Instead, Syria looks to be going the way of other major US wars, an open-ended situation short of success in which officials simultaneously are unable to come up with a plan to “win,” but will resist any pullout so they never completely lose.