Every US official is well aware that a tweet or a call from President Donald Trump could determine the future of American presence in eastern Syria.
This has reverberated in closed-door meetings in which US officials negotiated with European countries to deploy alongside the US-led international coalition in the eastern Euphrates region.
Not all countries were stumped by Trump’s decision to partially withdraw from Syria. Close advisers and allies were rather surprised by Trump not rolling back from the content of his conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his tweets, as he did last December when he responded to allies and extended American presence on the condition that France, Britain, and other countries share the burden of deployment.
US withdrawal will have an effect depending on its size and timing. It also gives rise to several discussions on buffer zones near borders, overall US presence in Syria, Turkish incursions into Syria, and the fate of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Turkey has announced that it wants to set up a “Safe Zone” along its borders with Syria to keep US-backed Kurdish forces which Ankara considers as terrorists away. But the question arises when tackling the dimensions of the safe zone and what is considered acceptable to the US.
As for US presence, it is still unclear whether the withdrawal will be restricted to areas near borders with Turkey or will effect further southern Syria positions set up to counter Iran’s growing influence.
The US has led extensive efforts to form an Arab-Kurdish alliance in Syria. With 60,000 fighters and local police to provide stability and border control in northeast Syria, it is unknown how a Turkish operation to create the safe zone will reflect on the balance within the Arab and Kurdish components of the SDF.
It is worth noting that Washington had frozen the process of Arab states’ normalization with Syria at the start of 2019, but the scale of the Arab condemnation of the Turkish aggression against the sovereignty and unity of Syria remained remarkable.