Withdrawing troops: The impossible choices

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It was I believe Colin Powell who said that sending in troops in a dispute was easy, but extracting them almost impossible.


The present situation in the Middle East illustrates this axiom perfectly.  President Trump, like his predecessors, promised to withdraw U.S troops from Syria. And he renewed this promise just recently. Then he found, again like his predecessors, that fulfilling his promise aroused so much opposition, from all political quarters, that he had to renege on the promise.  He did this by redefining how long it might be before he actually withdraws the troops.


If one asks someone whether or not troops should be withdrawn from Syria, the answer depends on how far back they define the onset of the current situation.


For some it is a very short time, and for others an extremely long time. For me the origin of the situation in which we are all embroiled at present is at least several centuries ago. The United States is in the Middle East as part of a general imperialist policy – everywhere in the world including the Middle East.


One cannot understand the position of various states and multiple non-state actors otherwise than seeing that they represent different ways of trying to fight against imperialist intrusions into their affairs.


The only way the United States can extract itself is to renounce imperialist policies. Doing this will be extremely painful not only for the United States but for almost everyone living in the region. There is no way to avoid this. The pain will be severe and immediate. But this is the least painful thing to do. Unless we bite the bullet and do this, the pain will never end. The choices will always be bad.


Is it conceivable that imperialists cease being imperialist? Probably not. Is it possible that the multiple victims welcome the withdrawal of imperialist powers even if their immediate situation becomes worse as a result? Possibly.


There is no good choice, no non-painful choice, only a long-run adjustment to a more equitable situation.



- Immanuel Wallerstein, Senior Research Scholar at Yale University, is the author of The Decline of American Power: The U.S. in a Chaotic World (New Press).


Copyright ©2019 Immanuel Wallerstein — used by permission of Agence Global.

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