Trump Impulsively Announced Syria Pull Out After Call with Turkish President
Trump’s announcement this week that U.S. troops would soon leave Syria was met with confusion and shock amongst lawmakers, his Republican party, and Trump’s own Cabinet.
Now, it appears he made the decision in the heat of the moment during a conversation with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to an AP report.
On December 14, Trump spoke to Erdogan in a planned phone conversation. The purpose of the call was to clarify reports that Turkey planned to launch an offensive against US-backed Kurdish rebels in northeast Syria.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and National Security Advisor John Bolton had prepared a list of talking points and briefed Trump on how they expected the conversation to go.
Trump was allegedly supposed to tell Erdogan and the Turkish government to back off, according to officials speaking under the condition of anonymity. He was meant to resolve the issue with Erdogan by exploring ways the US and Turkey could collaborate and resolve security concerns together.
The officials confirmed Trump was soon talking off-script to his Turkish counterpart. Erdogan reportedly reminded Trump that the U.S. troops arrived in Syria to combat the Islamic State. Now that ISIS had lost almost all of its territory, Erdogan asked, “why are you still there?”
Trump allegedly turned to John Bolton, who was listening to the conversation and asked why the U.S. troops were still there if what the Turkish President was saying was true. Bolton acknowledged that ISIS’s territory significantly diminished but stressed to the president that defeating ISIS meant more than taking away its territory.
Suddenly, Trump reportedly capitulated to the Turkish president and pledged to withdraw U.S. troops from the country. The move caught everyone by surprise, including Erdogan himself, who quickly warned Trump not to withdraw too hastily as Turkey does not have the troop strength to hold all of northeastern Syria.
The weekend was spent with the Trump administration’s national security team rushing to pull together a withdrawal plan. Pompeo, Mattis and Bolton tried to secure a middle-course on the issue but were told by Chief of Staff John Kelly that Trump would not budge on the issue. U.S. troops must leave Syria.
Trump wanted to announce the decision on Tuesday but was reportedly convinced to wait as the Pentagon had not had the opportunity to forewarn U.S. allies in the region. Reports began to leak out on Wednesday after General Joseph Votel informed his commanders on the ground in Syria.
The incident exposes the impulsive and whimsical manner that Trump makes important foreign policy decisions. It also demonstrates the ease at which foreign governments are able to manipulate the ‘Art of the Deal’ author into capitulating to their demands, in this case, against the counsel of his national security advisers.