On December 19, President Trump asserted that ISIS has been defeated and that the U.S. would withdraw all of its 2,000 American troops from Syria “within 60-100 days.” Wire reports indicated that the President reached his decision following a conversation with Turkish President Erdogan. Shortly after the announcement, Erdogan made a public promise to postpone its plans to attack Kurds in Northern Syria, and Russia praised President Trump’s choice to withdraw.
But the announced departure was greeted with profound disappointment elsewhere — including the United States. Within his own administration, the decision prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis, as well Brett McGurk, the U.S. special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Meanwhile, in the American public discussion, the move drew denunciation from Trump’s traditional defenders and from his more consistent opponents.
Scathing criticism arrived, for example, from the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), which had cheered the president’s tough line on Iran. Writing in The Atlantic, FDD CEO Marc Dubowitz and Senior Fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht criticized the withdrawal as a betrayal of principles as well as allies: ”Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, concurrently with his intention to drastically reduce the number of American soldiers in Afghanistan and the likely soon-to-be-announced further drawdown of U.S. personnel in Iraq, has made mincemeat of the administration’s efforts to contain Iran. If you add up who wins locally by this decision (the clerical regime in Iran, Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraqi Shiite radicals, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) and who loses (Jordan, Israel, the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds and Sunni Arabs, everyone in Lebanon resisting Hezbollah, the vast majority of the Iraqi Shia, the Gulf States), it becomes clear that the interests of the United States have been routed.”
Some of the President’s more consistent opponents, for their part, observed that in declaring victory over ISIS — and withdrawing all 2,000 troops from Syria as well as half of the 14,000 deployed to Afghanistan — Trump should be held accountable for the consequences of any new terror strikes against the United States. “Trump is exposing himself to some brutal recriminations if there’s a domestic ISIS attack months from now,” Tweeted Politico editor Michael Crowley. Writing in The New Yorker, David Rohde observed, “Trump is taking a political risk that George W. Bush and Barack Obama carefully avoided after 9/11: being perceived as weak on terrorism.”