I don’t like the message coming from the President in recent days that he wants to remove U. S. troops from Syria, as he says, “very quickly” and that he has already frozen $200 million in State Department funds dedicated to recovery efforts there. Of course, with Trump one can never tell which provocative tweets or off the cuff remarks he will reverse or modify and when, but these kinds of messages involving troop commitments are particularly worrisome because they smack of Obama’s habit of premature withdrawal.
In fact, one could make the argument that the die has already been cast with Obama’s failure to follow up on the “red line” in Syria over the chemical weapons attack on its own people. We basically abdicated at that point and allowed Russia back into the void in the region that it had vacated several decades ago, and it, along with its allies Iran and Turkey, is essentially setting the terms of engagement. The strategic regional interests of these three old empires go back centuries and are obviously more important to them than ours are to us, particularly without any serious engagement from Europe. Maybe Trump is playing a hand at testing Saudi Arabia as to how much they are willing to step forward to challenge Iran. Who knows?
My libertarian friends, along with Rand Paul and Tucker Carlson, et al, will applaud Trump’s exit plan and probably think it can’t come quickly enough. But this is a critical tipping point for the U. S. that will have significant consequences for our influence in the region for many years, and I, along with our allies, Israel and the Saudis, happen to think that the void we have already created was a mistake and to completely vacate now would be a bigger one. ISIS is severely degraded but not by any measure totally defeated and they have the advantage of sustainable patience that we lack and which we are playing into. It will be interesting to see what influence Trump’s new national security advisor John Bolton will have on the final decision, but I don’t like the drift of the conversation right now.
Well, as I write and true to form, the White House has just announced that the President is reversing himself on the withdrawal of troops, at least with the urgency he earlier indicated. So he evidently yielded to his top military advisors to remain firm at least until ISIS is “eradicated in Syria”. Such is life in TrumpWorld. I still don’t like the drift of the rhetoric, but stay tuned.