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Friends With Benefits

What the Reliance on Local Partners Means for U.S. Strategy

SDF fighters in Deir ez-Zor, May 2018. Rodi Said

What does an “America first” national security strategy look like in action? The White House provided a hint in April, when news broke that National Security Adviser John Bolton had asked Arab nations, including Egypt and possibly Saudi Arabia, to supply ground forces to replace U.S. troops in Syria. (This came only weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump announced his desire to “bring our troops back home.”) Although details are scarce, Bolton’s new initiative appears to mirror a broader talking point coming from the Trump administration: rather than putting American lives at risk, the United States will work “by, with, and through” local forces to achieve its national security objectives.

Champions of the by-with-through model argue that it is a better (and cheaper) means of fighting wars and winning the peace than sending U.S. troops into harm’s way. Testifying before Congress in March, General Joseph

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