Former U.S. Ambassador To Syria Discusses Trump's Decision To Pull Forces From Region
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Well, President Trump today has been defending his decision to pull U.S. forces out of Syria, tweeting the question, does the USA want to be the policemen of the Middle East? As we heard, Trump has come under fierce criticism from many people in Congress, in foreign policy circles. But one veteran diplomat who supports the president's decision is Robert Ford. He was the last U.S. ambassador to be posted in Syria. Welcome.
ROBERT FORD: Thank you. It's nice to be with you.
CHANG: So I read a quote of yours this week which said that while you are not a big supporter of President Trump, on Syria, you do believe that he is making the right call. Tell us why.
FORD: The reason is that I think Americans have to be realistic. The problems of ISIS, the problems of the Syrian Kurds are not going to be settled by 2,000 American special forces. These are political, economic, social problems. And really only Syrians, not Americans, can fix those problems. The American special forces have been in Syria for years now, and these problems are still there. ISIS is smaller. It can be managed by Syrians, and it should be managed by Syrians.
CHANG: I do want to point out that you are saying something very different than what you had been saying over the last several years. You were someone who was pushing for the U.S. to be more involved in Syria, to exert more pressure on Assad. What changed?
FORD: The Syrian government won the civil war basically two years ago. And I have been saying since that time that the Americans need to be realistic, need to accept that the Assad government, as awful as it is, has won the war and that we need to adapt our strategies in the Middle East because of that.
FORD: There's no sense pouring bad wine into new bottles.
CHANG: Well, putting aside the civil war, what about ISIS? Isn't there a risk that ISIS could revive and expand after the U.S. pulls out? Why wouldn't a stronger ISIS in Syria be a national security concern?
FORD: Well, look; of course there's a risk that ISIS is going to come back. But let's be calm first. American forces aren't out yet. They're going to be there a few more months. It's going to mean a few more months of progress against ISIS. And it's already down to its last few villages. After that, it's a question of addressing deeper social, economic and political grievances. And U.S. troops can't do that. It didn't work - it's not working in Iraq right now. We have 5,000 troops in Iraq. And guess what? ISIS is making a comeback there, too. It's about what the local people do, not what American soldiers can do.
CHANG: Well, what about our Kurdish allies in the region? The U.S. troops have been backing them. What happens to the Kurds after the U.S. leaves?
FORD: Well, first, it is inexcusable that they learned about this only on Wednesday. They should have been told well ahead of that. And that's not the way to treat people. But over the longer term, the United States has no enduring long-term national security interest in the remote parts of northeastern Syria. The Syrian Kurds are part of Syria, and they will have to come to an agreement with the Syrian government. I understand they were urged to do that more than a year ago, and those nations dragged.
CHANG: I just want to...
FORD: I think the president's announcement will incentivize them.
CHANG: I just want to revisit a phrase you just used - no enduring national security interest in northeast Syria. I mean, what about Iran? One of the key reasons for the U.S. to be in Syria was Iran. Doesn't U.S. troop presence help block Iran's strategic goals in the region, very briefly?
FORD: No, it doesn't. No, really, it doesn't. The Iranians use airports in western Syria, and they have done that for many, many years. If they want to use a road and the Israelis want to bomb a convoy going in, it's very easy for the Israelis to hit a convoy on the road. They do it all the time in Lebanon now.
CHANG: That's former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford. Thank you very much.
FORD: It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.