In the wake of President Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from Syria, there has been some renewed interest in the Security Studies Group’s Full Public Syria Plan. However, until now we have only published the “public” version of that plan. The public version differed from the version we sent to the National Security Council in three respects, which we thought too sensitive to include in the public debate. With the announcement of the withdrawal, however, there is no longer any reason not to disclose our advice and warnings.
Here are the things we kept out of the public version. These are presented exactly as they were composed in April of this year.
We redacted these discussions from the public version for two reasons. The first is that a frank discussion of the weakness of an American fighting position does not belong in the public square, as it might put American service members at risk. The fact that our position was, and is, much weaker than might be apparent needed to be brought to the White House’s attention, but not to our enemy’s.
The other reason is that the discussion of the potential for armed conflict between Turkey and the United States would touch on some sensitive diplomatic efforts. The potential was real enough that it needed to be discussed privately, but it was not the time to do so in the public discussion.
It is my assessment that Turkey’s Erdogan has committed to an incursion which brought these issues to the fore, and that these concerns adequately explain the American decision to withdraw. Our position was too exposed and too minimal to contest a large combined arms force. It had to be heavily reinforced or withdrawn, and the reinforcements were never made.
That withdrawal does not leave America powerless, as we have many elements of power short of military deployments. In the face of such a Turkish commitment, however, withdrawal is indicated by the facts on the ground.