Despite the storm and fury, the Syria withdrawal policy is unambiguous and going forward.
Few other foreign policy decisions of this administration have sparked more criticism than Donald Trump's announcement that he will remove U.S. troops from Syria. Even as he declared last night during his State of the Union address that "as a candidate for president, I loudly pledged a new approach…. Great nations do not fight endless wars," he drew a tepid response from Congress. The planned applause line fell discernibly flat.
Perhaps that's not a surprise, given that the withdrawal has been condemned by leaders from across the political spectrum—including from Trump's own party. South Carolina's Lindsey Graham called keeping troops in Syria "vital to our national security interests." Senator Marco Rubio described the decision as "a major blunder." Nebraskan Ben Sasse said that Iran, ISIS, and Hezbollah were "high-fiving" the move. Finally, last Thursday, Republican leader Mitch McConnell orchestrated a resolution condemning the withdrawal—which passed the Senate in a lopsided vote.
Graham, Rubio, Sasse, and McConnell have been joined in their condemnation by a host of establishment heavyweights. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, called the withdrawal "a bad idea" that constituted a "strategic defeat" for the U.S. Neocon penitent and Washington Post columnist Max Boot said the decision was a betrayal of America's Kurdish allies—comparing it to America's serial betrayals of "the South Vietnamese in the 1970s, the Afghans in the 1990s, and the Iraqis after 2011." A bevy of retired military types joined the chorus, including MSNBC regular General Barry McCaffrey and former Army vice chief of staff Jack Keane, not to mention former Marine General James Mattis, who announced his resignation as secretary of defense following the announcement.
Indeed, the reaction to Trump's decision was so overwhelmingly negative that Washington pundits speculated that it was only a matter of time before Trump "walked back" the decision by slowing the withdrawal—a deferential nod, it was said, to wiser and more seasoned foreign policy veterans. In fact, that not only hasn't happened, the president has dug in his heels, issuing eyeball-to-eyeball orders to military commanders that are anything but ambiguous.