John Bolton

Administration Hawks Try to Derail Quick End to U.S. Involvement in Syria

National Security Adviser John Bolton says the U.S.'s withdrawal is conditioned on protection of the Kurds, total elimination of ISIS.

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Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS/Newscom

President Donald Trump's abrupt announcement in late December that the United States would be ending its involvement in Syria's long-running, bloody civil war received cheers from non-interventionists, but subsequent comments from senior administration officials have cast doubt on the chances that U.S. troops will be out of the country anytime soon.

During a trip to Israel on Sunday, National Security Advisor John Bolton said that any withdrawal of military forces was conditioned on the total defeat of ISIS, plus assurances from Turkey that they would not attack U.S.-allied Kurdish militias.

"We don't think the Turks ought to undertake military action that's not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States, at a minimum so they don't endanger our troops," said Bolton, according to The New York Times.

Trump's secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, is also headed to the Middle East this week, where he will, according to comments from a senior administration official, try to persuade America's Arab allies that "the United States is not leaving the Middle East. Despite reports to the contrary and false narratives surrounding the Syria decision, we are not going anywhere."

All of this stands in marked contrast to statements from Trump himself.

On December 19, Trump announced that the U.S.'s goal of defeating ISIS in Syria was complete, ending the need for American forces to be in the country.

"We have won against ISIS. We have beaten them and beaten them badly," said Trump in a video message posted to Twitter. "It's time for our troops to come back home."

The timetable for this withdrawal was initially 30 days, which the traditionally hawkish Washington commentariat criticized as a reckless gift to Russian President Vladimir Putin and other American rivals in the region. The decision reportedly prompted Defense Secretary James Mattis to resign.

Trump later pushed back that 30-day window to four months. Comments from Bolton and other officials now suggest that any fixed schedule for withdrawal is toast.

This kind of walkback is hardly unprecedented. Back in Spring 2018, Trump announced at a rally that U.S. forces would be pulling out of Syria "very soon"; he even froze reconstruction funding for the country. The president was eventually persuaded to change course by his National Security Council.

The conditions Bolton is demanding are not the kind of things that can be completed overnight, says Emma Ashford, a foreign policy expert at the Cato Institute.

"Some of these things like protecting the Kurds, might be possible working with Turkey," says Ashford. A permanent defeat of ISIS, she tells Reason, would be a "very long-term commitment." Bolton has also said that U.S. troops would remain in Syria until Iranian forces had left, a goal Ashford described as "a generational effort."

All that said, statements from Bolton or Pompeo should not be read as definitive U.S. policy, but rather as what they want U.S. policy to be. Ashford notes that these pronouncements to the press may well be an attempt by two particularly hawkish members of the administration to publicly commit the ever-mercurial Trump to a course of action he instinctively opposes.

All this confusion only adds uncertainty to what is ultimately a wise decision to wind down U.S. involvement in Syria, says Ashford.

"Trump's instinct is absolutely right, withdrawing the troops makes sense," Ashford says. But "with U.S. policy so confused, it makes harder for every other actor in this conflict to figure out what they want to do."

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  1. We can’t just walk away like we did in Vietnam. Trump keeps acting like a hippie dippie librul, we’re gon’ impeach.

  2. John Bolton is asking the Kurds to trust the Turks and Donald Trump?

    He must figure they’re all Ouachita Baptist graduates.

  3. “John Bolton said that any withdrawal of military forces was conditioned on the total defeat of ISIS, plus assurances from Turkey that they would not attack U.S.-allied Kurdish militias.

    “We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States, at a minimum so they don’t endanger our troops,” said Bolton, according to The New York Times.”

    I’m not sure that quote says what you say it says.

    1. It says exactly what one thinks it says.

      1. The quote doesn’t say that the withdrawal of military forces from Syria is conditioned on the total defeat of ISIS.

        The quote says that the Turks shouldn’t do anything that might endanger US troops without our consent.

        Here, I’ll give you an example:

        “”JFree says that the machinery of capitalism is oiled with the broken dreams and tears of the proletariat.

        “It says exactly what one thinks it says”, said JFree, according to the New York Times.”

        The quoted part of JFree’s statement doesn’t actually say what the first part says it says.

  4. “Mike Pompeo, is also headed to the Middle East this week, where he will, according to comments from a senior administration official, try to persuade America’s Arab allies that “the United States is not leaving the Middle East. Despite reports to the contrary and false narratives surrounding the Syria decision, we are not going anywhere.”

    All of this stands in marked contrast to statements from Trump himself.”

    Then you go on to cite a bunch of Trump quotes about Syria?!

    Mike Pompeo’s trip is about reinforcing America’s commitment to containing Iran. That isn’t about Syria per se.

    I don’t get how you can rationalize what’s being said here–even in your own mind. Trump is still a warmonger because although he’s withdrawing from Syria he isn’t abandoning our allies in regards to Iran?

    If you don’t know that Pompeo’s trip is about Iran, then you either don’t know what you’re talking about or you’re being deceptive (willfully or otherwise).

    1. He’s not withdrawing from Syria.

      1. He certainly hasn’t forgotten about Iran!

  5. >>>conditioned on the total defeat of ISIS

    so never then.

    1. You broke the code! Don’t worry, that knock at your door is just the NSA.

  6. Since President Hillary Clinton would obviously not have announced a reckless, cowardly, irresponsible move like this, we can be sure it’s the wrong course of action. Therefore anything that delays or obstructs Drumpf’s proposal should be welcomed by all patriotic Americans.

    #StillWithHer
    #LibertariansForStayingInSyria

    1. President Hillary Clinton

      Lol.

      1. The guy contradicting Pres. Trump on Syria is Pres. Trump’s national security advisor.

        In the Trump administration, right-wing authoritarian and stale-thinking warmonger John Bolton is the guy who appears to be halfway sane.

        1. A Progressive troll complimenting John Bolton? You all are a funny lot.

  7. The poster child for neo-con idiocy. Every paragraph seems to start, “we think ______should do this”. Pure lunacy.

  8. any withdrawal of military forces was conditioned on the total defeat of ISIS Al Qeada, plus assurances from Turkey the Taliban that they would not attack U.S.-allied Kurdish Northern Alliance militias.

  9. Don’t forget WMDs, protection of Israel, the dominoes falling in Asia, Latin America, etc, etc.

    1. Kuwaiti babies left for dead on the cold filthy floor of the maternity ward as the sub-human Iraqi Republican Guard absconds, laughing, with the incubators.

  10. We need a pro-war chant to stay in Syria and Afghanistan.

    I’ll start:

    Hey hey,
    Ho Ho,

    1. The USA
      will never go

      1. Haha. I vote for this one.

    2. This puppet regime has
      Got to go!

      (Meaning the puppet regime that Putin installed in Washington DC, in case that wasn’t clear.)

      1. The joke lost its edge when you had to explain it.

  11. Bolton is Trump’s worst appointment.

    1. Not even close, Scott Gottlieb is by far the worst.

      1. I agree with that. Mainly cause he actually has power over an agency where Bolton’s power is limited to whether Trump listens too him or not. If he was named Sec of Defense that would give him the edge probably (though I am not sure of his views on defense contracting, other then he wants them to be able to provide the bombs to drop on all our enemies).

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