If recent American experience is any guide, however, the United States will wind up stuck in Syria despite Trump’s instincts and best efforts. Now, after another chemical weapon attack, the United States may even find itself escalating its efforts in Syria.
Trump is correct to want a speedy withdrawal. The Islamic State in Syria has been rousted from its physical “caliphate” and its remnants are on the run. Syria’s civil war still rages and there is no real chance for the United States to shape the political future of Assad or of Syria. Meanwhile the probability of deadly encounters with Russia, Iran and even Turkey remains very high for the foreseeable future. In short, the risks and costs of military intervention in Syria at this point far outweigh the benefits.
Nonetheless, America’s track record of foreign intervention since 9/11 makes it clear that leaving is easy to wish but hard to do. Presidents seeking to withdraw from interventions must always confront those who argue that it is the wrong time to leave. There is always another crisis to manage, always another danger likely to emerge if the United States were to withdraw right now. Though clearly there are situations that call for perseverance, American leaders must recognize when the costs of trying to reduce risk outweigh the benefits.
Although it is theoretically possible that a small group of people in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria will launch a terrorist attack against the United States in the future, that risk is very low and the costs of endless intervention and nation‐building are very high. The inability to recognize the tipping point is how “mission accomplished” in Afghanistan and Iraq turned into a war on terror with no end in sight.