Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary James Mattis downplayed the chances of the US withdrawing from Syria soon. He said the US would not want to withdraw from the country while Syria is still in a state of war.
President Trump has expressed support for withdrawing from Syria, but is facing a lot of resistance in the cabinet. Trump had presented the US presence in Syria as about fighting ISIS, and with ISIS virtually wiped out has suggested the rest wasn’t America’s battle.
Mattis, however, argued that the US had “won the fight” and now it was up to US diplomats to “win the peace.” Given how many different wars are ongoing in Syria, however, this is still going to be a protracted war. Under Mattis’ argument, it would have US troops there the whole time.
US diplomats aren’t in much of a position to negotiate with anyone, either. The US has long insisted on unconditional regime change in Syria, but no longer has any nationwide allied factions in Syria to prop up. Indeed, most US diplomatic effort in Syria is spent trying to keep former allies from fighting current allies, and Turkey from overrunning the Kurds.
The Pentagon has always viewed Syria, like Iraq, as a permanent military presence. Mattis’ strategy, in that context, is less about “winning the peace” than about providing a justification for staying involved in the Syrian War over the long term.