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Overreach: Trump's Syria Withdrawal Order Came as Reaction to Admin Hawks Demanding Forever War

The Pompeo-Bolton wing of the administration wanted to stay in Syria forever. This would have been exactly the opposite of why Trump got elected


This time it's real. It isn't entirely impossible Trump will reverse himself later on yet again, or qualify the withdrawal in some other way, but for now it is clear that he has indeed given the order to Pentagon to get all its forces out of Syria. This has always been his instinct and inclination, but until now the Empire-first hawks he has surrounded himself with always in the end convinced him to keep the soldiers there after all:

“We know Trump’s instincts from the get-go were to get these guys out of Syria,” Tamara Wittes, a former State Department Middle East official now with the Brookings Institution, told Al-Monitor. “And yet, he has clearly been persuaded at several points 'not yet, ISIS is not quite defeated, but we can use [the troop presence] as leverage against Iran.' He becomes persuaded, and then at a certain point, … he decides enough is enough. He just changes his mind.”

So why is this time different? Here is the answer:

Some current and former US officials faulted what they saw as overreach by administration Iran hawks, in particular US Syria envoy Jim Jeffrey and his lieutenant, Joel Rayburn, the deputy assistant secretary of state for the Levant, who have argued publicly that US forces would not leave Syria until all Iranian forces had left.

“The people who work for [Trump] — Bolton, Rayburn, now Jeffrey — make it worse by adding impossible objectives on Syria [involving Iran] that suggest an indefinite stay,” said the US official who called Trump's decision catastrophic. The official said these arguments have “no connection to realistic objectives for our military” and go “way beyond” the goal of defeating IS and preventing its re-emergence.

“Amb. Jim Jeffrey … has long been advancing a Syria policy divorced from the president’s own views,” Wittes wrote on Twitter. “I don’t fault Jeffrey at all for trying to create some coherence and leverage to achieve desirable outcomes. But it was futile without Trump fully on board.”

“The other big US policy loser here, of course, is Pompeo/Bolton/Hook’s Iran policy of 'maximum pressure,'” Wittes added, referring to US envoy on Iran Brian Hook.

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Trump finally and correctly got fed up with Bolton and Bolton-like maniacs in his administration being able to formulate no other idea than to stay in Syria for ever. And for what? This would have done very little to actually hurt Iran but in the meanwhile Trump would have betrayed an election promise. Lord knows he has broken plenty of them, and yet compared to a conventional shyster politician Trump seems to be much less comfortable doing so.

And how glorious it is, indeed. The Empire hasn't been in such a shock at least since the Russians-Syrians took back jihadi-controlled Aleppo: 

But US officials, speaking not for attribution, and Syria experts who consult with the US administration said that this time they believe Trump’s decision is real, and will not be reversed by a bureaucracy that has urged him to keep US forces in Syria longer.

“This time it’s real and truly catastrophic,” a US official, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor. “The president is just done” and said "leave."

Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from Syria came in the wake of a phone call between him and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday in which Erdogan said Turkish forces could finish off IS remnants and other terrorist groups, Syria experts said.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton met Monday, when Trump was said to formally decide on a US withdrawal from Syria. Multiple US officials argued against an abrupt US withdrawal, but were said to have given up trying to get Trump to change his mind by Tuesday night. US officials began to notify allies of the decision Tuesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at a conference this morning, said he had spoken with Trump on Monday and with Pompeo on Tuesday. “Netanyahu said Trump and Pompeo reassured him the US will still have other way[s] to influence the situation in Syria even without forces on the ground,” Israel Channel 10 diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid wrote on Twitter.

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"This is a US decision and we will study its timetable, its implementation and its repercussions for us,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “In any case we will make sure Israel's security is preserved and we will defend ourselves from this arena."

“The push back from DOD, State and NSC stopped [Tuesday] night,” said one regional expert who consults with the US administration, referring to the Department of Defense, the State Department and the National Security Council.

European officials, who have troops serving as part of the US-led anti-IS coalition in Syria, suggested they were blindsided by the abrupt decision, even if notified. “No, do you? Does anyone?” one European official, speaking with evident frustration, responded when asked if he had any guidance to offer on the US decision.

While Trump has repeatedly made clear his desire to bring US troops home from Syria, he has been persuaded in the past by advisers to give the mission more time. It’s not clear that such a reversal will be forthcoming now, however.


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