I was wrong last month when I wrote that, when finally making a strategic policy choice on troop withdrawals, President Trump would not prefer a legacy in the Middle East as the President who vacated leadership in that region to Russia, Iran, and ISIS. Only days after I wrote he made what I consider to be the worst decision of his presidency when he gave the order to abandon Kurdish allies by withdrawing all remaining troops in Syria, supposedly in fulfillment of a campaign promise to withdraw from “endless wars” in the Middle East. This “come home America” call sent all the wrong messages to friend and foe alike in terms of what can be expected from U. S. foreign policy and related commitments and the criticism came fast and heavy, including a Congressional resolution condemning the decision that was adopted by a vote of 354-60! Of course, as usual, days later came the tempering of the decision by adjusting the troop withdrawal to accommodate an escape route for Kurdish troops.
But the damage had been done, and what we’re learning about Trump is that, contrary to our previous assessments, he is deeply ideological about foreign and military policy. And this is reflected in his commitment to the Rand Paul/Tucker Carlson/”come home America”/isolationist wing of the Republican Party and its demands for withdrawal from conflict overseas and any semblance of “policing”. The volatility of this decision process and its impetuous delivery, of course, are vintage Trump, but this leadership style has particularly negative consequences in the world’s diplomatic circles and leaves the impression that all is not well in the West Wing. Further, as the Wall Street Journal has noted in an editorial, it is not unreasonable to conclude that Mr. Trump’s foreign policy can be distilled into two tactics–sanctions and tariffs–as substitutes for diplomacy. This does not bode well, realistically or politically, and the President needs to take stock of this vulnerability going into the 2020 election season.
But leave it to Trump to have a comeback, and that he did by ordering a successful raid resulting in the killing of the leader of ISIS and the world’s most notorious terrorist, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a major victory in the war on terror. This doesn’t end the war with ISIS, but it did serve notice that, despite the obvious volatility in the West Wing, the White House is occupied by a leader who will make tough decisions and will not hesitate to extend American military power. A very timely event and major victory for Trump and the country, but, of course, don’t expect his political opponents to acknowledge it in any form or fashion. In fact, on a day conspicuous in its impact on our war with radical Islam, the American left and their fellow travelers still found it impossible to see anything positive in the successful raid. In their total derangement they can find nothing, however positive for the country, that will warrant commendation of this President. The rule seems to be if it benefits Trump it’s bad, if it hurts him, it’s good. I’ve avoided this conclusion for three years until now, but I am now drawn to the obvious—the left and their media colleagues hate Trump more than they love the country.
The Baghdadi raid should have reminded us that the U. S. remains as the indispensable country–no other country has the reach or capabilities to lead such an attack. So to think that America has an option to vacate the Middle East is a pipe dream; we cannot avoid the fact that this region as well as certain others around the world still matter a great deal to U. S. interests and will for the forseeable future. The problem is with the volatility of policy, which is confusing to friends and foes alike and, unfortunately, might just be business as usual with this President.