This is Why America Fights Forever Wars | Opinion

When President Trump announced his decision to withdraw the U.S. troops from Syria who had been acting as a buffer between America's bitterly opposed Kurdish and Turkish allies, he didn't cite any change in the security landscape, any new strategic calculations, or any grand diplomatic bargain to ease tensions on this volatile fault line. Instead, he simply noted that he was fulfilling a longtime campaign promise to end the perennial deployment of U.S. troops to far-flung parts of the world. Though the sentiment may seem admirable, the decision actually typifies the very legacy of politically convenient but short-sighted policy choices that have kept the U.S. mired in "forever wars", and all but ensures American soldiers will again find themselves in the Syrian desert, but with fewer friends to call on.

The erratic and irresponsibly abrupt nature of the President's Syria withdrawal notwithstanding, bringing troops home is a message that resonates across the political spectrum. Leading Democratic presidential contenders have made similar pledges and it was a central campaign promise of Senator Barack Obama in 2008. But ironically, this search for quick, no-strings-attached exit ramps from the wars that have consumed the U.S. for most of the 21st century have sown the seeds for sustained conflict that keep U.S. service members returning again and again to the same battlefields.

It's been true in Afghanistan and Iraq, where America's longest wars once looked to be fairing better. The Taliban and the Islamic State of Iraq were both once reeling from the combined efforts of the U.S. and its local partners. But the urge to capitalize on hard-won but deceptive lulls in violence proved too tempting for U.S. political leaders, who were quick to declare victory and leave allies fending for themselves. Whether it was the hubristic decision to log Afghanistan in the "win" column and pivot to the ill-fated and ill-conceived invasion of Iraq, or the decision to abandon Sunni allies to the whims of the Maliki government just after they had paid so dearly to oust the Islamic State's predecessor from Iraqi cities, the wreckage left behind all but ensured the U.S. would have to pick up well behind where it left off.

Many year's later, the U.S. is nearing the 20th anniversary of its invasion of Afghanistan, whim in Iraq, U.S. soldiers have found themselves fighting to retake cities their comrades liberate years before. The public fatigue with these conflicts is understandable and reflects an over militarization of the U.S. engagement with the rest of the world since 9/11. But efforts to quickly depart these theatres when the embers of war were still glowing all but guaranteed the U.S. would return to face raging fires.

The president's unplanned withdrawal from Syria is shaping up to deliver painfully similar results. After years of costly warfare, America is again choosing to disengage with little thought or consideration to the consequences. It's been a boon for American adversaries. Already, Kurdish forces have turned to Russia and the Syrian government for help in blunting the Turkish incursion, while Islamic State militants look to capitalize on the chaos and rebuild their insurgency. Even before the President's announcement, reports had indicated that the Islamic State was in the early stages of a revival, and with the delicate coalition the U.S. assembled to defeat the group now shattered, it's unclear who will stand in their way.

And when the U.S. finds that it must again act to stem the advance of whatever the next iteration of the Islamic state might be, who in their right mind would come to America's aid? Those we've cajoled to place themselves in harm's way to fight for U.S. interests, be it the Kurds, the Sons of Iraq, or our Afghan partners, have learned the lessons of the last two decades: the U.S. is a strictly fair-weather friend. It is likely that the next time the U.S. finds it must intervene to protect its interest in the region it will be forced do so alone.

Looking to bring two decades of constant warfare to an end is a worthy cause, but the search for quick fixes to service political rather than strategic ends is helping no one, including the American citizens reasonably calling for an end to "forever wars." Indeed, as Defense One's Kevin Baron noted this past summer, 'end forever wars' is a sound bite, not a security policy." Bringing American troops home can't be done on the cheap, and will require sustained engagement to ensure that their return isn't short-lived. Unfortunately, the President's breakneck policy reversal shows we've not learned our lesson, and could mean Syria will be the latest theatre for our forever wars.

Elias Yousif is Program and Research Associate at the Security Assistance Monitor, Center for International Policy.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.