Matt Spetalnick –
Over the span of just a few hours, US President Donald Trump upended his own policy on Syria with a chaotic series of pronouncements, blindsiding foreign allies, catching senior Republican supporters off guard and sending aides scrambling to control the damage.
Trump’s decision on Sunday to remove some US forces from northeastern Syria, opening the door to a Turkish offensive against US-allied Kurdish fighters in the region, provides a vivid example of how, with traditional White House structures largely shunted aside and few aides willing to challenge him, he feels freer than ever to make foreign
policy on impulse.
While Trump’s erratic ways are nothing new, some people inside and outside of his administration worry that the risk of dangerous miscalculation from his seat-of-the-pants approach may only increase as he moves into re-election campaign mode facing a number of unresolved, volatile international issues, including Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan.
He also made clear on Monday that he was determined to make good on his 2016 campaign promise to extract the United States from “these endless wars,” although his plans for doing so are clouded by uncertainty.
It comes as Trump is under growing pressure from a Democratic-led impeachment inquiry over his efforts to get Ukraine to investigate one of his political opponents, former Vice President Joe Biden.
“There’s a real sense that nobody is going to stop Trump from being Trump at this stage, so everybody should buckle up,” said one US national security official, who cited Trump’s firing last month of national security adviser John Bolton as a sign of the president being less restrained than ever by his top advisers.
Trump’s policy whiplash on Syria started shortly after a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday in which he sought US support for Ankara’s planned incursion. Afterwards, the White House said that US forces “will no longer be in the immediate area”, suggesting that Turkey could be given free rein to strike Kurdish forces long aligned with Washington in the fight against IS.
Trump, in a series of Monday tweets, appeared at first to double down on plans for a US troop drawdown, but later threatened to destroy the economy of Nato ally Turkey if it took its military operation too far. That seemed to be an attempt to placate criticism, including from Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that he was abandoning the Syrian Kurds, who denounced it as a “stab in the back”.
The latest presidential pronouncements on Syria injected news confusion over US Syria policy.
Last December, acting without any kind of formal policymaking process, Trump called for a complete US withdrawal from Syria. But he ultimately reversed himself after drawing strong pushback from the Pentagon, including the resignation of then-Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, and an uproar on Capitol Hill and among US allies in Europe and the Middle East.
Trump insisted to reporters on Monday that he “consulted with everybody” on his new Syria decision, although the announcement seemed to catch Congress as well as some within his administration by surprise.
“He makes impulsive decisions with no knowledge or deliberation,” tweeted Brett McGurk, who served as Trump’s envoy for the international coalition to combat IS and quit after the December Syria policy uproar.
Trump’s abrupt decision on Syria came after learning in the phone call with Erdogan that the Turks planned to go ahead with a long-threatened incursion, a senior administration official said.
Matt Spetalnick –