Hawkish Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) made a surprise visit to Syria on Monday, stopping off in the city of Manbij, which is held by US and Turkish forces. Graham delivered a speech clearly designed to attack the idea of a US pullout from Syria.
There is no official plan for the US to withdraw from Syria. Indeed, Pentagon officials have been presenting the US military presence in Syria as open-ended. That’s not to say that Graham’s comments had no reason.
Rather President Trump has talked openly of wanting to withdraw the US troops from Syria, sometimes saying he expects it to happen soon, while ultimately being talked out of doing so by cabinet members. Graham is getting out in front of future possible considerations of a drawdown.
In his comments, Graham insisted that the US needed to “stay here to help,” and that it would be “terrible” if the US didn’t have any troops in Syria in the future. The US presence in Syria could be complicated, however, with Turkey aiming to take Kurdish border territory therein.
Manbij is the start of the US agreeing to back Turkey over the Kurds, effectively making a deal to expel Kurdish YPG from Manbij in favor of Turks. All other US troops in Syria are embedded in Kurdish-held territory, and it’s not clear how long it will be before Turkey starts challenging for those areas.