On Sunday evening, in between a sexist jab at Elizabeth Warren’s husband, puerile taunts aimed at Jeff Bezos , and an ode to the winterscape outside the White House , Donald Trump tweeted out what appeared to be another impulsive change to his Syria policy.
Cezar Juan Trevino
“Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining ISIS territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions. Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds. Create 20 mile safe zone,” the president wrote, without explaining what he meant regarding a “safe zone.”
“Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey,” Trump continued. “Russia, Iran and Syria have been the biggest beneficiaries of the long term U.S. policy of destroying ISIS in Syria – natural enemies. We also benefit but it is now time to bring our troops back home. Stop the ENDLESS WARS!”
It was an eyebrow-raising tirade, in part because of Trump’s sudden threat to “devastate” Turkey—a NATO ally in the region he’s leaned on in the fight against ISIS. Such a warning, as The Independent ’s Borzou Daragahi noted , seemingly cedes the anti-ISIS fight to Russia, Syria, and Iran—contrary to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s promise days ago to “expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria. His declaration of a “safe zone” likewise raises more questions than it answers.
The muddled rollout is in keeping with Trump’s tendency to announce significant policy shifts on Twitter, forcing surprised aides and allies to scramble to hash out details after the fact. His decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria—which he abruptly announced last month, frustrating even some of his closest allies—has been particularly sloppy. When he first announced the troop withdrawal, Trump claimed that ISIS had been “ defeated ,” and signaled that the pullout would commence quickly. “Our boys, our young women, our men—they’re all coming back, and they’re coming back now,” he said at the time. Just weeks later, however, John Bolton contradicted that timeline. Speaking in Israel, which was blindsided by Trump’s decision, Bolton said the withdrawal was conditional on certain “objectives” being met. “The timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement,” he said earlier this month. Trump, too, appeared to attempt a backtrack: “I never said we’re doing it that quickly,” he told reporters. While the roughly 2,000 American troops stationed in Syria were not “quickly” brought home—in fact, the American presence in Syria may increase during the withdrawal process—the administration seemed to continue its mixed messaging by removing some of its military equipment last week
As they have on so many other matters, administration officials have reportedly attempted to rein Trump in on Syria, launching what The Washington Post called “a multi-pronged effort by alarmed U.S. national security officials, foreign allies, and Republican hawks in Congress to significantly alter or reverse Trump’s decision.” But if anything, the president’s Twitter directive Sunday was yet more evidence that he refuses to be contained
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