Is Trump’s Move To Pull U.S. Troops From Syria Really That Big A Surprise?
Wouldn’t It Be More One Of The Most Important Expressions Of A “Trump Doctrine” To Date?
Update: One day after the Syria announcement, Trump Tweets he’s letting his Defense Secretary go. Former four-star General Jim Mattis is resigning but will serve through the end of February. Also not a giant surprise except for the timing (In a recent 60 Minutes interview, Trump quipped “I think he’s sort of a Democrat”), but the move creates a world of uncertainty about who’s next up. Mattis, along with John Kelly have certainly numbered among the “grownups” surrounding Trump. And most of the many former Generals Trump brought into his administration at the beginning are now gone.
Trump’s sudden move to remove 2,000 special forces stationed there (they’re mostly supporting Kurdish and Arab rebel forces) is bold and wildly risky, there’s little doubt about that.
Trump Tweeted his sudden decision was based entirely on the fact that the U.S. has “defeated” ISIS:
And that was pretty much it for an explanation. (Aside from a strange video he posted shortly after the Tweet).
We don’t know if his claim about ISIS’ complete demise is true or not, but virtually every Mideast expert we heard from today says it’s not.
But equally important is Trump’s implication that absent an immediate terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland, the U.S. needn’t play a role in some other country’s Civil War. Even if some of the U.S. most important allies — and adversaries — are completely wrapped up in the conflict.
The New York Times has a really excellent map of who currently has influence over what areas of Syria (if you click on the map, it’ll take you to the Times’ website, where the graphic becomes animated):
Trump’s move is widely depicted as virtually a unilateral decision; going against the advice of his generals and advisers. Just a couple of months ago, National Security Adviser John Bolton said U.S. troops would remain in Syria indefinitely: “We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders and that includes Iranian proxies and militias.” And Trump’s special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, expressed a similar resolve just two days ago, according to the Washington Post.
Late last night a bi-partisan group of Senators, led by Trump’s new best friend, Republican Lindsey Graham, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, jointly issued a letter to the President, calling his move “a premature and costly mistake” and further adding:
“The withdrawal of American presence from Syria also bolsters two other adversaries to the United States, Iran and Russia. As you are aware, both Iran and Russia have used the Syrian conflict as a stage to magnify their influence in the region. Any sign of weakness perceived by Iran or Russia will only result in their increased presence in the region and a decrease in the trust of our partners and allies.”
Trump’s approach is at once both completely consistent and at odds with what the President’s been promising. He’s long pledged to remove U.S. troops from Syria, and to increasingly disengage the U.S. from arbitrating every major international conflict and always taking on the role as the world’s policeman. (A philosophy Trump echoed this morning in a Tweet.) Promising instead a more disengaged, isolated, inward focus: “America First “.
But he’s also called out President Obama as weak for a very similar move: pulling the U.S. out of Iraq (that contributed to the rise of ISIS.) Trump preaches strength: in fact it was Trump who famously authorized missile attacks on government targets in Syria while dining with China’s President Xi at Mar-a-Lago, after he saw video on TV of children who were victims of a chemical weapons attack by Syrian President Assad.
Now Trump leaves Assad still in power, propped up by Russia (who BTW cheered the decision), vying for control or leverage with Iran, Turkey, Kurds, Syrian rebel militias, what may be left of ISIS (or perhaps a resurgent ISIS), and a brutalized civilian population in the mix.
The U.S., Trump’s decided, is apparently just going to sit this one out.