Trump’s WTF? Foreign Policy, Syria Edition

Normally when one wakes up in the morning and hears that the President has ordered an immediate withdrawal of ground troops from some place we probably shouldn’t have been anyway this would be screaming headline news, but in Trump World it seems to be taking a while to register.

The Trump administration is planning to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria, a defense official said Wednesday, as President Trump declared victory against the Islamic State.

The president, in a message on Twitter, said the United States had “defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”

His statement came shortly after news organizations reported that the White House had decided on Tuesday to abruptly remove the entire U.S. force of more than 2,000 troops from Syria.

So he’s declaring victory and going home, and in principle I don’t have a problem with that. But even lefty commenters are saying that the withdrawal would mostly benefit ISIS, Iran and (cough) Russia.

Alex Ward:

President Donald Trump has ordered the complete withdrawal of all American troops from Syria within 60 to 100 days — ending the small US presence in the war-torn country, curbing the fight against ISIS, and weakening America’s ability to counter Iran.

Other reports say Trump is only considering taking troops out of the country and hasn’t yet made a final decision. When asked to clarify, the Pentagon said in a statement Wednesday morning only that “at this time, we continue to work by, with and through our partners in the region.”

Yet just one minute later, the president tweeted: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, added more than an hour later that the US “has defeated the territorial caliphate” and that America has “started returning United States troops home.” …

… There are roughly 2,000 US troops in Syria there to help defeat ISIS, mostly by training Kurdish fighters. However, Trump has long questioned American troops’ presence in the country.

In April, he explicitly said he wanted to bring all American armed forces in Syria home. But surprisingly, he changed his mind five months later, agreeing to keep US troops in the Middle Eastern country indefinitely. Now it seems he’s reverted to his original stance.

ISIS has been substantially weakened but still has fighters in Syria and could make a comeback if the pressure comes off. Alex Ward speculates that a more likely reason Trump wants to withdraw is that Turkey is planning an offensive against the U.S.-backed Kurds. This might put U.S. troops in the position of having to defend Kurdish troops against Turkish troops. Better to bug out now, I guess. Too bad about the Kurds.

The New York Times reports that the Pentagon isn’t happy.

Pentagon officials who had sought to talk the president out of the decision as late as Wednesday morning argued that such a move would betray Kurdish allies who have fought alongside American troops in Syria and who could find themselves under attack in a military offensive now threatened by Turkey. …

… In a series of meetings and conference calls over the past several days, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior national security officials have tried to dissuade Mr. Trump from a wholesale troop withdrawal, arguing that the significant national security policy shift would essentially cede foreign influence in Syria to Russia and Iran at a time when American policy calls for challenging both countries.

Abandoning the American-backed Kurdish allies, Pentagon officials have argued, will hamper future efforts by the United States to gain the trust of local fighters, from Afghanistan to Yemen to Somalia.

In addition, the Islamic State has not been full vanquished from the small territory it controls on the Syrian-Iraqi border. The Islamic State has held that territory for more than a year in the face of attacks by American-allied forces, and has used it as a launching pad to carry out attacks in Iraq and Syria.

Very deep in the story, we find this:

But one Defense Department official suggested that Mr. Trump also wants to divert attention away from the series of legal challenges confronting him over the recent days: the Russian investigation run by the special counsel as well as the sentencing of his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, in a hush-money scandal to buy the silence of two women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump.

Well, at least he’s not starting a war as a distraction. Be grateful for that.

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