Aides tried to slow Trump on Syria

De­ci­sion to with­draw troops rat­tles U.S. al­lies

The Day - - WORLD & NATION - By ANNE GEARAN, JOSH DAWSEY and JOHN HUD­SON

Wash­ing­ton — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump dis­patched na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton on a cleanup mis­sion a week ago, with a three-day itin­er­ary in Is­rael that was in­tended to re­as­sure a close ally that Trump’s im­pul­sive de­ci­sion to im­me­di­ately with­draw troops from Syria would be car­ried out more slowly and with im­por­tant caveats.

The plan seemed to work at first. Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu was all smiles, thank­ing Bolton pro­fusely for the show of U.S. sup­port.

But by the end of the week, at­tempts to dis­suade Trump or place con­di­tions on the with­drawal faded as the U.S. mil­i­tary an­nounced it had “be­gun the process of our de­lib­er­ate with­drawal from Syria.” A mul­ti­pronged ef­fort by alarmed U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials, for­eign al­lies and Repub­li­can hawks in Con­gress to sig­nif­i­cantly al­ter or re­verse Trump’s de­ci­sion was ef­fec­tively a bust.

Since Trump’s abrupt Syria an­nounce­ment last month, a tug of war with al­lies and his ad­vis­ers has roiled the na­tional se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus over how, and whether, to ex­e­cute a pull­out. Ne­tanyahu spoke to Trump two days be­fore the pres­i­dent’s an­nounce­ment and again a day after­ward. French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron tried to get the pres­i­dent to change his mind. Even Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, who liked the pol­icy, was con­cerned it could not be safely ex­e­cuted so quickly.

The episode il­lus­trates the far-reach­ing con­se­quences of Trump’s pro­cliv­ity to make rash de­ci­sions with un­even fol­low-through, ac­cord­ing to ac­counts of the dis­cus­sions from more than a dozen cur­rent and for­mer U.S. of­fi­cials and in­ter­na­tional diplo­mats. They spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to speak frankly.

The pres­i­dent’s er­ratic be­hav­ior on Syria cost him the most re­spected mem­ber of his Cab­i­net, for­mer De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis; rat­tled al­lies and part­ners un­sure about U.S. com­mit­ment to the re­gion; and in­creased the pos­si­bil­ity of a mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion be­tween Tur­key and Kur­dish forces.

“Start­ing the long over­due pull­out from Syria while hit­ting the lit­tle re­main­ing ISIS ter­ri­to­rial caliphate hard, and from many di­rec­tions,” Trump tweeted Sun­day in an­other con­fus­ing mes­sage.

“Will dev­as­tate Tur­key eco­nom­i­cally if they hit Kurds,” Trump wrote.

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo sought to re­as­sure al­lies in a lengthy tour of Arab capi­tals last week, promis­ing that the U.S. with­drawal will not al­ter the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s com­mit­ment to fully de­feat the Is­lamic State and drive Ira­nian forces out of Syria.

Ex­pelling “ev­ery Ira­nian boot on the ground is an am­bi­tious di­rec­tive, but it’s ours. It is our mis­sion,” Pom­peo told re­porters dur­ing a stop in the United Arab Emi­rates on Satur­day. “The fact that a cou­ple thou­sand un­formed per­son­nel in Syria will be with­draw­ing is a tac­ti­cal change. It doesn’t ma­te­ri­ally al­ter our ca­pac­ity to per­form mil­i­tary ac­tions we need to per­form.”

The mes­sage did lit­tle to re­as­sure jit­tery al­lies. One per­son fa­mil­iar with the in­ter­nal Syria de­bate said those in the pres­i­dent’s in­ner sanc­tum are to blame for the mess.

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