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- 12/19/18--08:00: _Trump outright igno...
- 12/19/18--16:38: _There are 4 winners...
- 12/19/18--18:20: _'That's the way the...
- 12/19/18--20:29: _Top Republicans are...
- 12/19/18--21:54: _MSNBC host comes to...
- 12/20/18--06:12: _Trump walks back cl...
- 12/20/18--06:12: _Putin applauds Trum...
- 12/20/18--06:49: _Republicans are fur...
- 12/20/18--07:29: _Trump's Syria pullo...
- 12/20/18--07:52: _US-backed forces in...
- 12/20/18--15:19: _Lawmakers express '...
- 12/20/18--16:29: _Trump's move to pul...
- 12/20/18--21:43: _US Defense Secretar...
- 12/21/18--06:51: _'Fox & Friends' hos...
- 12/21/18--09:01: _Even Turkey's presi...
- 12/21/18--09:35: _'We MUST end these ...
- 12/21/18--13:45: _Mattis' resignation...
- 12/21/18--21:48: _'You know what? It'...
- 12/22/18--09:45: _Top US official lea...
- 12/22/18--18:27: _Trump says he doesn...
- President Donald Trump declared victory over ISIS on Wednesday and said that the only reason for the US having a military presence in Syria was to fight the terror group.
- In saying so, Trump threw out about a year of his own State Department and Pentagon's explicitly stated policy.
- The US withdrawing from Syria will give Russian President Vladimir Putin a freer hand to impose his will on the region as Russia is now the unopposed military power in the region.
- The US has been fighting against ISIS in Syria since 2014, and the terror group is down to a tiny fraction of the territory and strength it started with before the US started bombing it.
- President Donald Trump's sudden decision to pull US troops out of Syria risks advancing the interests of America's adversaries, according to lawmakers and foreign-policy observers.
- While leaving America's allies high and dry, the move could hand Syria over to the Syrian regime, Russia, and Iran.
- Withdrawing US troops from Syria may also take the pressure off of ISIS at a critical point in the fight to eliminate the terrorist organization.
- President Donald Trump defended his decision to withdraw all US ground troops from Syria within 30-days with a video in which he suggested it was a decision that dead US troops would have agreed with.
- "And that's the way we want it, and that's the way they want it," Trump said, pointing a finger at the sky.
- Trump took pride in his initial decision to continue combat operations in Syria during his presidency, but said he thinks it's time for that to end, citing his claims that the US has defeated ISIS.
- Trump's decision caught Republican and Democratic lawmakers by surprise.
- Top Republicans sounded off against President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw all US ground forces from Syria within 30 days.
- In a letter signed by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Joni Ernst of Iowa, the lawmakers called Trump's decision a "premature and costly mistake."
- "While you believe the threat of ISIS has dissipated, the conditions on the ground paint a very different picture," the letter reads.
- MSNBC host Chris Matthews slammed critics of President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw US ground forces from Syria within 30 days.
- Matthews described them as "the country's brigade of armchair hawks," who he alleged promoted military interventions in the Middle East or "wherever they can find a broadcastable case."
- Matthews' monologue came hours before a stark warning from a group of top Republicans who claimed that the proposed withdrawal was a "premature and costly mistake."
- "Trump ran against stupid wars," Matthews said, accusing people who are criticizing Trump over the pullout decision of cheering on such wars in the first place.
- 12/20/18--06:12: Trump walks back claim that ISIS is 'defeated' in less than a day
- President Donald Trump seemed to walk back on his claim that the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, has been totally defeated.
- Trump on Thursday tweeted: "Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us."
- The day before, Trump claimed ISIS had been totally defeated as he defended his decision to abruptly pull roughly 2,000 US troops out of Syria.
- 12/20/18--06:12: Putin applauds Trump's decision to pull US troops out of Syria
- Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday applauded President Donald Trump's decision to pull US troops out of Syria.
- "On this, Donald is right. I agree with him," Putin said.
- Trump's decision to pull US troops out of Syria, which was announced on Thursday, is controversial.
- Critics, including some of Trump's Republican allies in Congress, feel the move is a win for Russia, Iran, ISIS, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
- President Donald Trump announced the United States would withdraw its military presence from Syria on Wednesday.
- The move infuriated Republicans, who called the decision a mistake that could lead to further chaos in the region.
- Sen. Rand Paul was one of the only Republicans to vocally praise Trump's announcement, earning kudos from the commander-in-chief.
- President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops in Syria on Wednesday.
- The move clashed with stated goals of his own administration, and recalled his betrayal of the US intelligence community in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- But he likely saved the US from another protracted Middle Eastern conflict with no clear mission or end in sight.
- Many saw Trump as giving up Syria to Putin, possibly for clandestine reasons. But Trump didn't give Syria away, Putin took it with hard-fought battles starting in 2015.
- The Pentagon, the State Department, top Republicans, and Trump's national security advisor all wanted or gave reasons for the US to stay in Syria, but they're ultra-hawkish.
- After President Donald Trump announced that US troops will be withdrawing from Syria, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces began discussing the possibility of releasing ISIS prisoners, which could be a "real disaster."
- The militia group is holding around 1,100 ISIS fighters and 2,080 relatives of ISIS members.
- There are concerns that the SDF will "need all of its fighters" to defend against Turkey if the US does withdraw its forces from the war-torn country.
- The SDF currently has about 1,100 ISIS fighters and 2,080 relatives of ISIS members in its custody, the head of the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights told The Times.
- The militia group was discussing the release of the prisoners since it was “concerned that it would need all of its fighters” to defend against Turkey if the U.S. actually leaves.
- “The best result of terrible options is probably for the Syrian regime to take custody of these people,” a Western official told the Times on condition of anonymity. “If they are released it’s a real disaster and major threat to Europe.”
- Trump seemed to blindside not only his Kurdish allies but the entire national security establishment with his announcement of a troopwithdrawal this week.
- Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had opposed a pullout and had argued that U.S. should keep a small U.S. presence in the country, according to The Washington Post.
- And one of the president’s allies in Congress, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), blasted the decision as a “huge Obama-like mistake.”
- Still, the Pentagon confirmed it would begin drawing down forces in Syria but did not provide specifics.
- “The coalition has liberated the ISIS-held territory, but the campaign against ISIS is not over,” Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said. “We have started the process of returning U.S. troops home from Syria as we transition to the next phase of the campaign.”
- President Donald Trump announced the retirement of Defense Secretary James Mattis on Thursday.
- Mattis' announced departure comes at a time when Republicans are increasingly furious with many of Trump's military-policy proposals, such as the withdrawal of US troops from Syria.
- Mattis cited significant differences with the president as a reason for his resignation.
- Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who announced his resignation from the Trump administration on Thursday, is reportedly leaving because President Donald Trump refused to heed his warnings about withdrawing US troops from Syria.
- Trump said a day earlier that he intends to pull American troops out of Syria, saying that ISIS militants had been defeated there.
- Mattis' resignation letter is a sharp rebuke of Trump's policies.
- James Mattis, the US defense secretary is resigning from the Trump administration. His pending departure could create a vacuum of experience at the highest levels of US domestic and foreign policy.
- In his resignation letter on Thursday, Mattis chided President Donald Trump, saying the US should be "treating allies with respect," and also be "clear eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors."
- But it was his warning and his clarity about the growing great-power threat that Trump will be hoping the new secretary studies closely.
- "Fox & Friends" host Brian Kilmeade on Friday ripped into President Donald Trump over his abrupt withdrawal of US troops from Syria.
- "He also is doing exactly what he criticized President Obama for doing," Kilmeade said. "He said, 'President Obama is the founder of ISIS.' He just refounded ISIS."
- White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Kilmeade his comments were "outrageous."
- 12/21/18--09:01: Even Turkey's president told Trump not to do anything hasty in Syria
- Some anti-war Democratic lawmakers are torn over the president's abrupt decision to withdraw US troops from Syria and Afghanistan.
- Progressive Democrats who have long opposed American "forever wars" in the Middle East argued that while Trump's unilateral move ignores humanitarian concerns and diplomacy, it is a welcome step towards "foreign policy restraint."
- Some voices on the left made the case that bringing the troops home — regardless of how the decision was made or implemented — is the right move.
- Mattis’ resignation could become a crisis if the administration mishandles the next several weeks.
- In normal circumstances, senior military leaders are obliged by the norms of civil-military relations to give their personal professional opinion to their civilian bosses, Trump and Congress, and should not resign.
- Mattis resigned in protest following Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria, and he was able to do so without immediately sparking a crisis because he is a political appointee — not a military one.
- But, the departure of the most respected administration voice on national security—and the reckless moves that led to his departure—will mean policymaking will get harder, not easier.
- The civilian side of the national security house was already pretty weak in the Trump administration. Mattis’s departure makes it even weaker.
- Reports from multiple outlets give some clues as to why President Donald Trump made his decision to pull US troops out of Syria, a move that prompted Defense Secretary James Mattis to resign.
- That development materialized last Friday during a call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after Erdogan asked Trump why there were still 2,000 troops in Syria if the Islamic State had been defeated.
- "You know what? It’s yours," Trump said, according to The Washington Post. "I’m leaving."
- Brett McGurk, the top US official leading a 79-nation coalition fighting ISIS, resigned from his post on Friday in protest of the president's sudden decision to withdraw all US troops from Syria.
- McGurk said in an email to staff that President Donald Trump's decision on Syria came as a "shock," was a "complete reversal" of US policy, and "left our coalition partners confused and our fighting partners bewildered."
- "I worked this week to help manage some of the fallout but — as many of you heard in my meetings and phone calls — I ultimately concluded that I could not carry out these new instructions and maintain my integrity," he wrote.
- President Donald Trump tweeted Saturday evening that he didn't know Brett McGurk, the top US official leading the fight against ISIS.
- Trump called McGurk a "grandstander" for resigning over Trump's recent decision to withdraw 2,000 troops from Syria.
- McGurk reportedly told his colleagues in an email on Friday that he could not in good conscience carry out Trump's orders to withdraw 2,000 troops.
- Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also resigned this week, citing differences between his and Trump's views on how to treat US allies and adversaries.
President Donald Trump declared victory over ISIS on Wednesday and said that the only reason for the US having a military presence in Syria was to fight the terror group.
In saying so, Trump has ignored more than one year of explicit policy from his own top military and State Department officials.
For example, four days before Trump's declaration, which coincided with widespread reports that the US would pull out all troops from Syria, the Pentagon said the following:
"We remain committed to working with our partners on the ground to ensure an enduring defeat of ISIS. Any reports indicating a change in the U.S. position with respect to these efforts is false and designed to sow confusion and chaos."
Business Insider reached out to the Pentagon for comment on Trump's apparent reversal of policy but received no comment.
What the US was doing in Syria
The US started military intervention in Syria in 2014 to combat ISIS. This intervention has mostly taken the form of an air campaign with more than 70 nations contributing jets, munitions, or funds to fight the terror army.
The US, Israel, and others accuse Iran of trying to ally themselves with Syrian President Bashar Assad to secure freedom of movement in the country and thereby facilitate arms transfers to Lebanon, where Hezbollah holds considerable military and political power and shares Iran's dream of destroying Israel.
In September, former US Ambassador James Jeffrey, now the State Department's representative for Syrian engagement, said the US was in no hurry to leave Syria, and could stay behind after the defeat of ISIS to counter Iran.
More explicitly, National Security Adviso John Bolton said US troops are not leaving Syria "as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders."
Trump has taken a hawkish line against Iran and was thought to have picked Bolton and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo exactly because they shared his vision for countering Iran's vision.
But on Wednesday Trump threw months of US policy away and declared that the US's sole reason for having boots on the ground in Syria was to fight ISIS.
Big win for Putin
Russia sent warplanes to back Assad in Syria at the end of September 2015. Russia's jets turned the tied of the war and saved Assad from near certain defeat at the hands of rebels.
In November 2017, with Assad firmly back in control of Syria and crushing the remaining pockets of rebel fighters with the help of Russian air power, the Syrian leader gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a big hug and thanked him for his help.
Putin filled a power vacuum left in Syria after former President Barack Obama refused to do any more than train and equip rebel groups in Syria. The US at the time had few if any troops in Syria.
But Trump, by sending forces into Syria, was able to thwart many of Putin's ambitions. US forces on the ground clashed with Russian military contractors in a spectacular battle that saw them slaughtered and humiliated. The US beat back Iranian advances and deterred attacks on the rebel group they backed.
With the US withdrawal from Syria, Russia, now the dominant military power in the most consequential conflict in the Middle East, will have a freer hand to do as it pleases. This will likely include reinforcing Iran's influence and keeping Assad, who stands accused of numerous war crimes, away from international courts.
Did the US defeat ISIS?
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces recently wiped out ISIS in one of its very last Syrian command centers, but the terror group remains present on the ground.
That said, the territory of ISIS has collapsed to about 1% of where it stood in 2014 at the start of the US-led campaign to defeat ISIS.
The terror group remains active online and in illicit markets but has not coordinated large-scale terror attacks in foreign countries as it did regularly from 2014-2016.
NOW WATCH: 7 things you shouldn't buy on Black Friday
The US has begun withdrawing American troops from Syria, a decision President Donald Trump made in response to the fall of the physical ISIS caliphate.
"We have won against ISIS," Trump said in a video message Wednesday. "We've beaten them, and we've beaten them badly. We've taken back the land. And, now it's time for our troops to come back home."
Critics argue that withdrawing from Syria at this time risks advancing the interests of America's adversaries. "The big winners of this decision are ISIS, Iran, Russia and Assad," South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told The Washington Post after calling the president's decision an "Obama-like mistake."
White House and Pentagon officials have been unable to offer clarity on the situation, with questions about timelines, expectations, and the mission going forward remaining largely unanswered.
There are serious concerns among lawmakers and foreign policy observers that the president's decision will basically hand Syria and its future over to the Syrian regime-Russia-Iran axis, leaving our allies vulnerable and the stability of the region in jeopardy.
Here are the groups that stand to benefit from the US' move:
Moscow celebrated Wednesday's surprise news that the US plans to leave Syria "as quickly as possible." The Russian Foreign Ministry, according to Russian media outlet Tass, said"hope emerges," arguing that "once Americans were there, there was no such hope."
The Russian military has been active in Syria since 2015. Without the US military standing in its way, Russia will be able to significantly expand its influence.
While the primary mission of the US military in Syria has been the "enduring defeat of ISIS," it has also been to counter troubling Iranian activities in the region.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in October that a US objective was "the removal of all Iranian and Iranian-backed forces from Syria." One month earlier, White House national security adviser John Bolton said US troops would not "leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders and that includes Iranian proxies and militias."
The US military presence in Iran has disrupted Iranian activities, but withdrawing US troops from Syria will permit Iran to more easily pursue its interests.
The US has repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with Syrian President Bashar Assad, with some observers assessing that he might eventually be removed from power. The US military placed at least limited restraints on the Syrian military.
Pulling US troops out of Syria risks emboldening Assad, as he feels more secure, leaving his enemies — which have fought alongside American forces — more vulnerable. With the threat posed by ISIS degraded, Assad could, with the support of his Russian and Iranian allies, focus his efforts on retaking territory lost in the civil war.
And, as the US will no longer have a military presence in country, the Syrian regime, in coordination with Moscow and Tehran, will be free to dictate the post-war outcome.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
President Donald Trump defended his decision to withdraw all US ground troops from Syria within 30 days with a video in which he suggested it was a decision that dead US troops would have agreed with.
In a roughly one-minute video at the White House on Wednesday, Trump took pride in his initial decision to continue combat operations in Syria during his presidency, but said he thinks it's time for that to end, citing his claims that the US has defeated ISIS.
"We've been fighting for a long time in Syria," Trump said. "I've been president for almost two years and we've really stepped it up. And we have won against ISIS."
"We've beaten them, and we've beaten them badly," Trump added. "We've taken back the land and now it's time for our troops to come back home."
Trump's claim that the US had eradicated ISIS was undercut by an earlier claim from the US envoy to the coalition against the terror group.
"The military mission is the enduring defeat of ISIS," envoy Brett McGurk said, eight days before Trump's announcement.
"We have obviously learned a lot of lessons in the past, so we know that once the physical space is defeated, we can't just pick up and leave. So we're prepared to make sure that we do all we can to ensure this is enduring."
Trump expressed sympathy for US troops killed in Syria and said writing condolence letters to survivors "saddened" him. As of March, three US troops were killed in Syria.
"I get very saddened when I have to write letters or call parents or wives or husbands of soldiers who have been killed fighting for our country," Trump said. "It's a great honor. We cherish them. But it's heartbreaking. There's no question about it. It's heartbreaking. "
"Now we've won. It's time to come back," Trump added. "They're getting ready, you're going to see them soon. These are great American heroes. These are great heroes of the world because they fought for us but they've killed ISIS, who hurts the world. And we're proud to have done it."
Trump went on to speak for the dead troops by suggesting his decision was one they would have advocated.
"And I'll tell you, they're up there looking down on us, and there is nobody happier or more proud of their families, to put them in a position where they've done such good for so many people," Trump said. "So our boys, our young women, our men, they're all coming back. And they're coming back now. We won."
"And that's the way we want it, and that's the way they want it," Trump added, pointing a finger at the sky.
Roughly 2,000 US troops are now positioned to withdraw from Syria, where they have been conducting operations against ISIS and training Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces since 2014.
Trump's decision caught Republican and Democratic lawmakers by surprise.
"If Obama had done this, we would be going nuts right now," Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said.
Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska also blasted the decision and described it as a hypocritical.
"Eight days ago the Administration called a hypothetical pullout 'reckless,'" Sasse said in a statement. "Today, we're leaving."
"The President's generals have no idea where this weak decision came from," Sasse said, adding that, "a lot of American allies will be slaughtered if this retreat is implemented."
While his authority to launch Tomahawk missiles against the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons was contested earlier this year, Trump's role as commander-in-chief to withdraw US forces leaves little room for a debate.
In remarks given to reporters on Wednesday, a senior administration official downplayed the abruptness of Trump's decision and suggested it was one that should not have come as a surprise.
"I will say the President's statements on this topic has been 100% consistent from the campaign through his announcement today," the official said. "And so the notion that anyone within the administration was caught unaware, I would challenge that, quite frankly. And it was the President's decision to make, and he made it."
Top Republican senators sounded off against President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw all US ground forces from Syria within 30 days, a move that caught many lawmakers and defense officials off guard on Wednesday.
In a letter signed by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Joni Ernst of Iowa, the lawmakers called Trump's decision a "premature and costly mistake."
"While you believe the threat of ISIS has dissipated, the conditions on the ground paint a very different picture," the letter said.
Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine and Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire described the roughly 2,000 US ground forces stationed in Syria as "small and limited," but said they have been effective in fighting ISIS militants and deterring Russia's influence in the region.
"If you decide to follow through with your decision to pull our troops out of Syria, any remnants of ISIS in Syria will surely renew and embolden their efforts in the region," the letter said.
"The withdrawal of American presence from Syria also bolsters two other adversaries to the United States, Iran and Russia," the letter continued. "As you are aware, both Iran and Russia have used the Syrian conflict as a stage to magnify their influence in the region. Any sign of weakness perceived by Iran or Russia will only result in their increased presence in the region and a decrease in the trust of our partners and allies."
Trump announced he would be pulling ground forces out of Syria on Wednesday, a decision some lawmakers characterized as abrupt and without warning from the White House.
Trump claimed the "only reason for being there" was to defeat ISIS, and that US completed its mission during his two years as president. However, the decision appears to conflict with the assessment from his senior advisers, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and coalition envoy Brett McGurk.
Mattis previously suggested US troops would maintain a presence in Syria after defeating ISIS, citing threats from Iran and a potential resurgence of the militant group.
Days before Trump's decision, McGurk also said the US was "committed to working with our partners" in Syria, and that "any reports indicating a change in the US position" was "false and designed to sow confusion and chaos."
"I've never seen a decision like this since I've been here 12 years, where nothing is communicated in advance and all of a sudden, this type of massive decision takes place," Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said to reporters.
"I doubt there's anybody in the Republican caucus in the Senate that just isn't stunned by this precipitous decision," Corker added.
However, a senior administration official speaking to reporters on Wednesday downplayed the abruptness of the decision and suggested it ought to have been expected.
"I will say the President's statements on this topic has been 100% consistent from the campaign through his announcement today," the official said. "And so the notion that anyone within the administration was caught unaware, I would challenge that, quite frankly. And it was the President's decision to make, and he made it."
MSNBC host Chris Matthews slammed critics of President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw US ground forces from Syria within 30 days, shortly after lawmakers and foreign-policy experts expressed concerns.
Matthews described Trump's critics as "the country's brigade of armchair hawks," who he alleged promoted military interventions in the Middle East or "wherever they can find a broadcastable case."
"The timing of the withdrawal from Syria should be subject to on-the-ground factors, but one easily gets the idea that the proponents for an extended US stay will not accept any deadline," Matthews said on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews."
"They want us there permanently, part of a continued garrison American military power in the [Middle East]. That's what they wanted long before 9/11."
Matthews referred to Vice President Dick Cheney, whose initial support for the war in Iraq was widely condemned, and likened critics of the withdrawal to "the clique of Cheney."
"It remains an historic fact that it's easier to bring military power into an area than it is to remove it," Matthews said. "We've seen this is in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and now in Syria."
"What is undeniable is the predictable outrage of those who were so wrong about Iraq and are so ready to be wrong about Syria," he added.
Trump announced his decision on Wednesday to withdraw US ground forces from Syria — a move that appeared to take many Republicans by surprise — citing the supposed defeat of ISIS militants in the country.
Matthews' monologue came hours before a stark warning from a group of top Republicans who claimed that the withdrawal was a "premature and costly mistake." Among others, senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Tom Cotton of Arkansas signed a letter condemning the decision and urged Trump to reconsider on Wednesday.
"While you believe the threat of ISIS has dissipated, the conditions on the ground paint a very different picture," the letter said.
Matthews pointed to Trump's campaign statements advocating for a withdrawal in Syria, and asked whether people who objected to the latest decision would have supported military operations in Syria from the onset in 2014.
"Trump ran against stupid wars," Matthews said, accusing people who are criticizing Trump over the pullout decision of cheering on such wars in the first place.
Some Democrats voiced their agreement with Trump's decision and supported the withdrawal.
"I served on active duty and know we have an awesome military," Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu said on Twitter. "But the first rule for the Commander in Chief is that he should never send troops to a war zone without Congressional authorization and without a strategy. [Donald Trump] is right to withdraw our troops."
President Donald Trump on Thursday seemed walk back on his claim the Islamic State Group, also known as ISIS, has been totally defeated, which he had cited a day before to defend his decision to abruptly pull US troops out of Syria.
Trump on Thursday tweeted his decision to pull roughly 2,000 US troops out of Syria means other countries, including US adversaries, will have to continue the fight against ISIS.
"Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever? Time for others to finally fight," Trump said.
He added: "Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us. I am building by far the most powerful military in the world. ISIS hits us they are doomed!"
Russian President Vladimir Putin actually applauded Trump's decision to pull US troops out of Syria on Thursday.
"The fact that the US has decided to withdraw its troops is right," Putin said at an annual press conference.
The White House did not immediately respond for comment.
The decision to pull the US troops out of Syria was announced in an abrupt fashion on Wednesday, prompting confusion and alarm both in Washington and beyond.
By the end of the day, reports began to surface US allies on the ground in Syria were caught by surprise as they expressed concern about how to confront ISIS on their own.
In announcing the decision to withdraw US troops from the Middle Eastern country on Wednesday, Trump tweeted: "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency." The president also tweeted a video in which he made similar claims.
After historic victories against ISIS, it’s time to bring our great young people home! pic.twitter.com/xoNjFzQFTp— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
But Trump's own agencies have hedged against such a declaration for months.
Just a day before Trump declared ISIS was defeated, for example, State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said of the fight against ISIS in Syria: "We've made significant progress recently in the campaign ... but the job is not yet done."
ISIS has lost its caliphate, or the vast swath of territory it once held across Iraq and Syria. But multiple reports, including one from the Pentagon inspector general, suggest the group still has between 20,000 to 30,000 fighters in the region.
"Getting rid of the caliphate doesn't mean you then blindly say, 'OK, we got rid of it,' march out, and then wonder why the caliphate comes back," Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon recently. "How many times have we seen — look at even Iraq where they're still on the hunt for them. And they're still trying to come back."
Trump faced substantial criticism over the US troop pullout announcement, including from fellow Republicans.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close ally of the president, said it was "Fake News" to claim ISIS was defeated and an "Obama-like mistake" to pull US troops out.
"To those who say we have defeated ISIS in Syria, that is an inaccurate statement. They have been hurt, they have been degraded and I give the president all the credit in the world for changing our policies regarding the fight against ISIS, but I will not buy into the narrative that they have been defeated,"Graham said in a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday. "To say they're defeated is an overstatement and is fake news. It is not true. They have been severely damaged but they will come back unless we're there to stop them."
US allies also criticized the decision.
"Much remains to be done and we must not lose sight of the threat they pose. Even without territory, Daesh (ISIS) will remain a threat," the UK's Foreign Office said in a statement on Wednesday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday applauded President Donald Trump's decision to pull roughly 2,000 US troops out of Syria.
"On this, Donald is right. I agree with him,"Putin said to reporters, adding that the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, has suffered significant losses over the past year or so.
Putin added that he didn't think US troops needed to be in Syria.
"Let's not forget that the presence of [US] troops there is illegitimate,"Putin said. "The US is there without backing from the United Nations or an invitation from the Syrian government. Russia is there at the invitation of the Syrian government. But if the US has decided to withdraw, that's good."
Meanwhile, Trump in a Thursday tweet claimed Russia is "not happy" the US is leaving Syria, claiming it signals they will now have to fight ISIS without US help.
"Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever? Time for others to finally fight," Trump said. "Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us. I am building by far the most powerful military in the world. ISIS hits us they are doomed!"
It's unclear how Trump came to this conclusion given Putin's statements. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from INSIDER.
Trump's decision to pull US troops out of Syria, which was announced on Thursday, is controversial. Critics, including some of Trump's Republican allies in Congress, feel the move is a win for Russia, Iran, ISIS, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Republican members of Congress became irate on Wednesday after President Donald Trump announced the United States would begin withdrawing its military presence from Syria.
Citing the lack of warning before making such a crucial policy decision coupled with the danger that could follow such a rapid drawdown in the war-torn country, Republicans called Trump's move a "sign of weakness" that would embolden adversaries and potentially allow the brutal terrorist group ISIS to repopulate in the region.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who often criticizes Trump, told reporters in the Capitol on Wednesday, "I’ve never seen a decision like this since I’ve been here in 12 years, where nothing is communicated in advance, and all of a sudden, this type of massive decision takes place."
"Honestly, this makes what Obama did in Iraq — it’s replicating that, but in many ways, it’s even worse," he added. "Because you’re in a situation where we’re very close in the Euphrates River Valley to finishing clearing out, and it’s literally, it would be like — I don’t know what analogy would be appropriate. But it’s a terrible thing for our nation."
Corker's disdain for the decision was felt all around Senate Republicans, who made their voices heard in opposition to Trump's move.
"Eight days ago the Administration called a hypothetical pullout ‘reckless.’ Today, we're leaving," Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse said in a statement. "The President's generals have no idea where this weak decision came from: They believe the high-fiving winners today are Iran, ISIS, and Hezbollah. The losers are Israel, humanitarian victims, and U.S. intelligence gathering. A lot of American allies will be slaughtered if this retreat is implemented."
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio called the decision "a big mistake" that would prompt Syrian Democratic Forces and the Kurdish militias to abandon their fight against ISIS.
"And our adversaries will use this as evidence that America is an unreliable partner," Rubio added. "Today’s decision will lead to grave consequences in the months and years to come."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close confidant of Trump and hawkish conservative, blasted the decision.
Graham took to the Senate floor to call Trump's decision "dishonorable" and "a stain on the honor of the United States."
"I'm not saying we need to be in Syria forever," he added. "I'm saying now's not time to leave."
Graham also authored a letter with several of his Republican colleagues and two Senate Democrats, urging the president to reconsider.
"If you decide to follow through with your decision to pull our troops out of Syria, any remnants of ISIS in Syria will surely renew and embolden their efforts in the region," the senators wrote. "However, ISIS is not the only threat. The brutal dictatorship of Bashar al Assad continues to weigh heavily upon the Syrian people, and we fear that a withdrawal of our troops may embolden Bashar al Assad to take further actions to solidify his power."
"Any sign of weakness perceived by Iran or Russia will only result in their increased presence in the region and a decrease in the trust of our partners and allies," they added. "Your administration must not repeat the same mistakes that previous administrations have made and concede to these bad actors."
Rand Paul praises Trump for the withdrawal
Graham, who once said, "You could put the number of Republicans who will follow Rand Paul’s advice on national security in a very small car," seemed at opposite ends of his libertarian-leaning foe in the Senate.
Paul on the other hand, praised the decision, noting his long disdain for US military engagement in Syria.
"I'm proud of the president today to hear that he is declaring victory in Syria," Paul said. "Most of the voices around here like to stay everywhere for all time, and they believe that it doesn't work unless you go somewhere and stay forever."
"The president has the courage to say, 'We won in Syria, and we're coming home,'" he added. "First president in my lifetime really to do that."
Trump responded in regular fashion to when someone showers him with praise, taking to Twitter to offer his thanks.
"Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer," Trump wrote on Twitter early Thursday morning. "Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing there work. Time to come home & rebuild. #MAGA."
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President Donald Trump made a shock decision to pull US troops out of Syria on Wednesday.
The move clashed with the stated goals of his own Pentagon and State Department and recalled his infamous betrayal of the US intelligence community, where he sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin in denying that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.
But he likely saved the US from another protracted Middle Eastern conflict with no clear mission or end in sight.
"We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,"Trump tweeted as reports said that around 2,000 US military personnel would be leaving the country.
This directly contradicted his own National Security Adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and the Pentagon. Defense officials said just hours before that the US was committed to staying in Syria indefinitely to defeat ISIS.
But Bolton, Pompeo, and the Pentagon weren't elected to lead the country. Trump was.
"Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years,"Trump tweeted on Thursday.
The Pentagon notes that ISIS still has tens of thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria, and that the terror group remains a regional threat. But the formerly US-led coalition to defeat ISIS remains intact.
France, Britain, Germany, and about 70 other nations can stay back and fight ISIS to the last man if they want.
ISIS believes in holding territory as a "caliphate" or empire under the rule of their brutal and twisted version of Islam. The US, alongside its partners, has robbed them of that. The group at one point held about 90% of Syria's oilfields and agrarian land. Now they hold nothing.
Additionally, the US air war against ISIS has killed hundreds of civilians in schools, mosques, and markets.
While ISIS hasn't been completely defeated as Trump said, it is up to the president to determine when a foe like ISIS, which now mostly exists as a network or idea on certain propaganda channels and encrypted apps, has been satisfactorily defeated.
Trump the dove
While top members of Congress and prominent media personalities criticized Trump apparently ignoring his top staffers, the most strident criticism has come from the anti-Iran hardliners.
Pompeo, Bolton, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis share one thing in common: They're ultra-hawkish on Iran.
Bolton in September said US troops are not leaving Syria "as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders."
The most hawkish Republicans from around Congress also wrote Trump a letter warning of him against the "premature and costly mistake" of leaving Syria.
Trump brought down enormous economic and diplomatic pressure on Tehran by withdrawing from the Iran deal, but stopped short of outright military confrontation.
Iran has an estimated 70,000 fighters in Syria. It has thousands more in Iraq. Iran is a sovereign nation that can deploy troops outside its borders whenever it wants, provided the host nation agrees to it.
As a policy goal, committing US troops to Syria until every single Iranian soldier returns home is a losing equation for the US that allows Iran to impose costs on Washington.
For Trump, it seems he's happy to make ISIS other countries' problems and abandon the doomed concept of "forever war" in Syria, which would be a means to contain Iran.
A gift for Putin?
National Security Action, an advocacy group founded by foreign policy aides to former President Barack Obama, sent a statement to Business Insider that implied Trump may have initiated part of a secret agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin or Turkey, citing gaps in the public record of Trump's relations with those two.
Trump's withdrawal certainly solidifies a military victory in Syria for Putin, who saved Syrian President Bashar Assad from near certain defeat in 2015. But Trump by no means "gave" Syria to Putin.
Putin won in Syria when he launched a massive and victorious military campaign against rebel forces there more than three years ago. Putin did so at a time when Obama had refused for four years to meaningfully intervene in the fighting despite promising to do so if chemical weapons use continued.
Putin's dominion over Syria had been a foregone conclusion for years. Syria invited Russia. Nearby Iran supports Russia. Russia isn't the dominant military power in the most consequential conflict in the Middle East because of a gift from Trump, but because they moved a ton of warplanes and contractors into Syria and won hard-fought victories. They've also suffered humiliating defeats.
Also, Trump's supposed gift to Putin actually comes with heavy strings attached. Now, as Syria's savior, the responsibility to fight ISIS where it crops up in Syria may fall on Russia. Why not let Russia do that dirty work?
Similarly Israel, Iran's main regional enemy, has proven extremely willing to bomb Iranian forces in Syria when it sees them getting too close to their borders.
"Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing there [sic] work," tweeted Trump on Thursday. "ISIS hits us they are doomed!"
Why Trump says he pulled out
Trump has never visited US troops deployed overseas in combat, and it's reportedly because he doesn't believe in the mission of meandering fights in places like Afghanistan.
In announcing the pull-out, Trump again said he found it difficult to talk to the families of citizens killed in war while calling to bring home our troops.
By accepting the hard reality of Syria and pulling the US out before national pride or overconfidence dragged the nation into another destabilizing, nation-building mission jacked up through the roof with wasted money, Pentagon jargon, and dead Americans, Trump may have showed his greatest act of military leadership and dodged another forever war.
Top officials of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have discussed the possibility of releasing 3,200 ISIS prisoners the militia group has been holding, one day after President Donald Trump said U.S. troops would be leaving Syria, according to The New York Times.
In its fight against ISIS, the SDF has captured a large number of prisoners and has been holding them in northern Syria.
Defense Secretary James Mattis will step down from his post in February, President Donald Trump announced on Thursday, bringing an end to yet another cabinet official's tenure since Trump took office two years ago.
Mattis expressed considerable differences with Trump in his resignation letter to the president, writing that he is leaving "because you have a right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours."
The move sent shockwaves through Washington, coming at a time when Republicans have become increasingly frustrated with Trump's military policy decisions, which have ran counter to the advice of many of his top advisers and traditional GOP orthodoxy.
"That’s what happens when you ignore sound military advice," Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican, wrote on Twitter in his immediate reaction to Trump's announcement.
Sen. Lindsey Graham said in a statement he felt a "great sadness" upon learning of Mattis' resignation, saying he"is one of the great military leaders in American history" and should be proud of his service.
"General Mattis is a combination of intellect and integrity," Graham added. "He has been in the fight against radical Islam for decades and provided sound and ethical military advice to President Trump. He is a role model for the concept of Duty, Honor, Country."
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a frequent critic of Trump, said in a statement that it is "a sad day."
"General Mattis was giving advice POTUS needs to hear. Mattis rightly believes that Russia & China are adversaries, and that we are at war with jihadists across the globe who plot to kill Americans," he added, noting that an isolationist foreign policy would pose a grave threat to the United States.
"Radical jihadists are still at war with us, and NO, MR PRESIDENT, ISIS is not gone," Sasse wrote on Twitter. "It's not true — and just proclaiming it doesn’t make it so."
Democrats characterize Mattis' departure as a crisis
Democratic Sen. Chris Coons said Mattis' resignation "more bad news for our national security" because he was "one of the most seasoned & capable advisors" Trump has had.
"A Secretary of Defense quitting over a public disagreement with a President whose foreign policy he believes has gone off the rails is a national security crisis," Democratic Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy said. "No way around it."
Democratic Virginia Sen. Mark Warner said the resignation is "scary" because "Mattis has been an island of stability amidst the chaos of the Trump administration."
"As we’ve seen with the President’s haphazard approach to Syria, our national defense is too important to be subjected to the President’s erratic whims," Warner added.
The consternation over Mattis' resignation comes on the heels of Trump's decision to withdraw all US military personnel from Syria, a move that enraged conservatives and put much of his allies on edge.
Republicans and Democrats both largely agreed that such a decision would embolden American adversaries like Russia and Iran, while giving new breathing room for the return of brutal terrorist groups like ISIS.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis is resigning, reportedly because the president refused to heed his warnings on withdrawing US troops from Syria.
Mattis went to the White House Thursday "in a last attempt to convince" President Trump "to keep US troops in Syria," The New York Times wrote Thursday, citing officials. "He was rebuffed, and told the president that he was resigning as a result."
Defense officials told CNN that Mattis was "livid" after reading reports that the Turkish defense minister threatened to kill the Kurds — US partners in the fight against ISIS. He was reportedly incensed at what he considered a betrayal of an ally.
A few hours later, Mattis submitted his resignation letter, which stressed that the president needs a defense secretary who shares his view of the world, particularly when it comes to the preservation of an international order best suited to the advancement of US national interests, the treatment of allies and partners, and the handling of American adversaries.
The letter, which repeatedly stressed the importance of alliances, was a sharp rebuke of Trump's policies.
Trump has time and time again overruled or contradicted Mattis, and it appears that this time was the last straw for the embattled secretary.
The president, proudly saying ISIS has been defeated, announced Wednesday that US troops will be withdrawing from Syria, a move that many of the president's advisers have warned against.
"Getting rid of the caliphate doesn't mean you then blindly say okay, we got rid of it, march out, and then wonder why the caliphate comes back," Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon in late September. His views were reflected by the American-led coalition in Syria.
"We cannot walk away, we must stay and work with our partners to develop their capabilities and capacity and ensure they can prevent this enemy from ever threatening Iraq, Syria, and any other country around the world," coalition spokesman Col. Sean Ryan told reporters at the Pentagon late last month.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis announced his resignation from the Trump administration on Thursday, setting in motion the end of what has been a tumultuous tenure working with President Donald Trump.
In his resignation letter, Mattis told Trump, without saying his name, that the president has a "right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned" with his own.
Mattis’ resignation follows Wednesday's controversial announcement of a plan to pull American troops out of Syria.
But it was the outgoing defense secretary's warning about the shifting nature of great-power relations he hopes his successor will study closely.
Under Mattis' watch, the administration has drawn an unambiguous line in the sand. Beginning with Russia and, historically, moving out of engagement with China, and into confrontation.
"I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly at odds with our own," Mattis wrote in his resignation letter.
"It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbours, America and our allies."
Russia, under its President Vladimir Putin, has already shown its capacity and willingness to reach into the heart of US democracy.
The latest twin reports to front the Senate show in excruciating detail how even the smallest manipulation of social media platforms can meddle in US public life with just a single troll farm— the unit called the Internet Research Agency — tucked away somewhere in a Moscow warehouse.
Opaque and unsettling
While the Trump administration has appeared in an unflattering light amid what US policy expert believe is an unsettling relationship with Russia, Putin has been steadily picking at the edges of Crimea, presenting the greatest military threat to Ukraine in years.
But it is with China where Mattis and the administration have barged into a new period of strategic competition— and where the slide toward conflict is most acute.
That confrontation has been encouraged by the Trump administration itself, with the tearing down of so many aspects of the rules-based order that has governed global politics in the post-World War II era.
"My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear eyed about malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues," Mattis wrote in his resignation letter to Trump.
The Trump effect has isolated allies and invigorated adversaries, former Australian Prime Minister and noted sinologist Kevin Rudd said in November.
Speaking at the Hudson Institute in October, US Vice President Mike Pence delivered a landmark address signaling the US's intent to challenge an increasingly assertive and belligerent China, directly accusing it of “meddling in America’s democracy."
Pence accused China of stealing American intellectual property, eroding US military positions, and driving the US out of the Western Pacific.
It was only on Tuesday, when China's President Xi Jinping, the country's strongest autocratic leader since Mao Zedong, made a gloating speech marking China's furious economic progress, with more daunting promises of "miracles that will impress the world."
Delivered with slumped shoulders in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Xi spoke for 90 minutes before touching momentarily on a vision for a new kind of Chinese expansion aimed at exporting its model of technocratic dictatorship to other like-minded nations.
"The past 40 years eloquently prove that China’s development provides a successful experience and offers a bright prospect to other developing countries, as they strive for modernization," Xi said, about 40 minutes into his speech.
This is exactly where China is now placed as it looks across the Pacific and into Central Asia to covertly or overtly use the One Belt One Road initiative to expand its industrial, technical, and digital prowess into developing neighbors that are vulnerable to the authoritarian siren song of, for example, surveillance techniques now being rolled out in the beleaguered western province of Xinjiang.
China's vast data-collection platforms — WeChat alone has more than a billion users, and are harvesting ever-deeper data on behalf of the state — would be happy to do the same for other nations.
Earlier this week Danielle Cave, a senior analyst at the Australian Security Policy Institute's International Cyber Policy Centre, told Business Insider that developing nations that do not share the US's aversion to unreliable actors like the embattled telecommunications giant Huawei, are ready and willing to marry into China's cheap, buy-now-pay-later model of total autocratic technocracy.
The person Trump chooses to replace Mattis will need to see, with the same clarity that "Mad Dog" could, the chasm between the words of America's strategic adversaries and their actions in this new, dangerous, fragmented — and increasingly lonely — global theater.
"Fox & Friends" host Brian Kilmeade on Friday ripped into President Donald Trump over his abrupt withdrawal of US troops from Syria, accusing him of opening the door for the Islamic State terrorist group, also known as ISIS, to make a major comeback.
Speaking with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Kilmeade said, "Sarah, he's giving Russia a big win. [Russian President] Vladimir Putin praised him. He also is doing exactly what he criticized President [Barack] Obama for doing. He said, 'President Obama is the founder of ISIS.' He just refounded ISIS."
Kilmeade noted that ISIS likely still has thousands of fighters in the region despite the fact it's lost its self-declared caliphate, or the large swath of territory it held across Iraq and Syria. "The president is really on the griddle with this," Kilmeade said.
Brian Kilmeade just called out Trump to Sarah Sanders on Syria:— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) December 21, 2018
"Sarah, he's giving Russia a big win. Vladimir Putin praised him. He's also doing exactly what he criticized President Obama for doing. He said President Obama was the founder of ISIS. He just refounded ISIS."pic.twitter.com/PC48rTkQ77
Looking somewhat shocked and bemused at Kilmeade's assertion, Sanders replied, "Brian, I have to respectfully and vehemently disagree with you."
She added, "The idea that the president has had anything to do with helping ISIS reemerge is absolutely outrageous."
Kilmeade, who often defends Trump's policies, then said, "Leaving is helping."
Sanders continued to push back, stating that if ISIS wants to "pick a fight" with Trump, he will "destroy them and defeat them."
In announcing the Syria pullout, Trump said ISIS was defeated, despite much evidence to the contrary.
Defense Secretary James Mattis, who did not agree with Trump's decision on Syria, resigned on Thursday.
During the 2016 US presidential campaign, Trump accused Obama of being the "founder of ISIS" because of the power vacuum created after he withdrew US troops from Iraq in 2011.
"He was the founder,"Trump said at the time. "The way he got out of Iraq was that — that was the founding of ISIS, OK?"
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw American troops from Syria was made hastily, without consulting his national security team or allies, and over strong objections from virtually everyone involved in the fight against the Islamic State group, according to US and Turkish officials.
Trump stunned his Cabinet, lawmakers and much of the world with the move by rejecting the advice of his top aides and agreeing to a withdrawal in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week, two officials briefed on the matter told The Associated Press.
The December 14 call, described by officials who were not authorized to discuss the decision-making process publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, provides insight into a consequential Trump decision that prompted the resignation of widely respected Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
It also set off a frantic, four-day scramble to convince the president either to reverse or delay the decision.
The White House, State Department and Pentagon all declined to comment on the account of the decision to withdraw the troops, which have been in Syria to fight the Islamic State since 2015.
Despite losing the physical caliphate, thousands of IS fighters remain in Iraq and Syria, and the group continues to carry out insurgent attacks and could easily move back into territory it once held if American forces withdraw.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arranged the December 14 call a day after he had unsuccessfully sought clarity from Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu about Erdogan's threats to launch a military operation against US-backed Kurdish rebels in northeast Syria, where American forces are based.
Pompeo, Mattis and other members of the national security team prepared a list of talking points for Trump to tell Erdogan to back off, the officials said.
But the officials said Trump, who had previously accepted such advice and convinced the Turkish leader not to attack the Kurds and put US troops at risk, ignored the script. Instead, the president sided with Erdogan.
In the following days, Trump remained unmoved by those scrambling to convince him to reverse or at least delay the decision to give the military and Kurdish forces time to prepare for an orderly withdrawal.
"The talking points were very firm," said one of the officials, explaining that Trump was advised to clearly oppose a Turkish incursion into northern Syria and suggest the US and Turkey work together to address security concerns. "Everybody said push back and try to offer (Turkey) something that's a small win, possibly holding territory on the border, something like that."
Erdogan, though, quickly put Trump on the defensive, reminding him that he had repeatedly said the only reason for US troops to be in Syria was to defeat the Islamic State and that the group had been 99% defeated.
"Why are you still there?" the second official said Erdogan asked Trump, telling him that the Turks could deal with the remaining IS militants.
With Erdogan on the line, Trump asked national security adviser John Bolton, who was listening in, why American troops remained in Syria if what the Turkish president was saying was true, according to the officials.
Erdogan's point, Bolton was forced to admit, had been backed up by Mattis, Pompeo, US special envoy for Syria Jim Jeffrey and special envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition Brett McGurk, who have said that IS retains only 1% of its territory, the officials said.
Bolton stressed, however, that the entire national security team agreed that victory over IS had to be enduring, which means more than taking away its territory.
Trump was not dissuaded, according to the officials, who said the president quickly capitulated by pledging to withdraw, shocking both Bolton and Erdogan.
Caught off guard, Erdogan cautioned Trump against a hasty withdrawal, according to one official. While Turkey has made incursions into Syria in the past, it does not have the necessary forces mobilized on the border to move in and hold the large swaths of northeastern Syria where US troops are positioned, the official said.
The call ended with Trump repeating to Erdogan that the US would pull out, but offering no specifics on how it would be done, the officials said.
Over the weekend, the national security team raced to come up with a plan that would reverse, delay or somehow limit effects of the withdrawal, the officials said.
On Monday, Bolton, Mattis and Pompeo met at the White House to try to plot a middle course. But they were told by outgoing chief of staff John Kelly and his soon-to-be successor Mick Mulvaney that Trump was determined to pull out and was not to be delayed or denied, according to the officials.
The trio met again on Tuesday morning to try to salvage things, but were again rebuffed, the officials said.
The White House had wanted to announce the decision on Tuesday — and press secretary Sarah Sanders scheduled a rare briefing specifically to announce it. But the Pentagon convinced Trump to hold off because the withdrawal plans weren't complete and allies and Congress had not yet been notified, according to the officials. The first country aside from Turkey to be told of the impending pull-out was Israel, the officials said.
Word of the imminent withdrawal began to seep out early Wednesday after US Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel started to inform his commanders on the ground and the Kurds of the decision.
Following the official announcement the White House emphasized that the US will continue to support the fight against IS and remains ready to "re-engage" when needed. But in a tweet, the president said US troops would no longer be fighting IS on behalf of others.
"Time to focus on our Country & bring our youth back home where they belong!"
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser contributed from Ankara, Turkey.
Some dovish Democratic lawmakers are torn over President Donald Trump's abrupt decisions this week to withdraw US troops from Syria — where they were sent without congressional approval. Many anti-war liberals are also concerned about the president's reported plan to halve the American military presence in Afghanistan, where the US has been at war for over 17 years.
Progressive Democrats in the House and Senate expressed nuanced opinions on Trump's unexpected unilateral move, voicing outrage over Congress' failure to hold the White House accountable in matters of war and foreign intervention. Some are reasserting their belief that the US shouldn't be engaged in "forever wars," while also expressing concern over Trump's failure to address humanitarian or diplomatic crises.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee who has pushed progressives to assert a more coherent foreign policy strategy, argued that Congress has long abdicated its responsibility to approve military action, which is often covertly ordered by the executive branch. Murphy said Democrats shouldn't defend the illegal US military presence in Syria. But Murphy opposed the way in which Trump is rolling out the foreign policy shift.
"Guess what? Our military strategy in Syria — under Obama and Trump — has never made sense," Murphy tweeted on Wednesday. "Fighting ISIS makes sense, but our half-hearted intervention in the civil war has never been enough to tip the balance but just enough to give false hope to the rebels that they can win."
Both of these can be true:— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) December 20, 2018
1. The way Trump is pulling troops out of Syria, with no notice and no new plan, is dangerous and makes America weaker.
2. The neo-cons vastly oversold the impact (and ignored the risks) of 2,000 troops, and pretended it was an actual Syria strategy.
Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat who was the sole member of Congress to vote against authorizing war on Afghanistan in 2001. She argued that ending the unauthorized "perpetual war" in the Middle East must be accompanied by a congressionally-approved plan to address humanitarian concerns and a broader diplomatic strategy.
"While I agree we must bring home our troops as soon as possible, there is no plan in place to address the humanitarian disaster in Syria or advance negotiated peace," Lee wrote on Thursday. "We MUST end these unauthorized wars, but the manner in which we do it matters."
I’ve long called for the end of military operations in Syria and a withdrawal of troops & I will keep working to bring these endless wars to a close. However, as we bring our troops home, we must redouble our diplomatic efforts to broker peace in the region. Full statement: pic.twitter.com/yhGkxjooTt— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) December 20, 2018
Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat and co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, praised the president's move on Wednesday, calling the troop withdrawal "a good first step toward ending our foreign policy of interventionism." He argued that Democrats should remain firm in their call for a "foreign policy of restraint" and called for the end to US support for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen and the repeal of the 2001 authorization for the use of military force.
"Instead of criticizing withdrawal from the illegal war in Syria, Dems would have more credibility calling for pressure on Erdogan to have a cease fire, collaboration with allies, and a short timeline for removing troops," Khanna tweeted Friday, referring to Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. "Critique the tactics, not the strategy of less intervention."
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, an Iraq war veteran who has long called for an end to US intervention in Syria, on Friday called the widespread GOP opposition to the troop withdrawals "astonishing" and evidence of "just how attached to war some are."
Some pundits on the left are also arguing that Trump is making the right decision to reduce US influence in the Middle East, no matter how he settled on or announced the move.
"It is mind boggling that we, as a nation, are unable to appreciate that thousands of Americans will now no longer be in harm’s way, fighting a war that Congress never debated and that much of American public never even knew was happening," Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, wrote in The Guardian on Friday.
Ignoring the advice of his top advisers and triggering the resignation of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Trump announced he will withdraw all 2,000 US troops from Syrian and bring 7,000 troops home from Afghanistan, shortly after he declared victory over the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. The move drove the president's secretary of defense, James Mattis, to resign from his position Thursday.
"We have won against ISIS," Trump said in a video message Wednesday. "We've beaten them, and we've beaten them badly. We've taken back the land. And, now it's time for our troops to come back home."
A host of top Republicans, the bulk of the foreign policy establishment, and the Democratic Party have all condemned the troop withdrawals and expressed shock and concern over Mattis' resignation. Murphy called the resignation "a national security crisis," while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — who very rarely publicly criticizes the president — said he is "distressed" by the news.
"Withdrawal of this small American force in Syria would be a huge Obama-like mistake," South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday, insisting that "ISIS is not defeated."
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio called the president's decision a "grave error," while Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois told The Washington Post that "history will look at this as one of the stupidest strategic moves."
Mattis has publicly argued that the US must maintain its presence in Syria in order to suppress a resurgence of ISIS.
US troops are training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces and carrying out counterterrorism operations against regional terror groups, like ISIS and Al Qaeda. In September of last year, Trump ordered the deployment of an additional 3,000 troops to Afghanistan.
Ryan Pickrell contributed to this report.
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s resignation in protest has triggered the most serious civil-military challenge the Trump administration has yet faced.
It is not a full-blown crisis but could easily turn into one if the administration mishandles the next several weeks or if adversaries take advantage of the policy chaos and make focused attacks on U.S. interests at home and abroad.
This challenge comes as a result of the administration’s mishandling of policies and failure to step up to adversaries at home and abroad, which means there is every reason to be pessimistic about what’s coming.
First, let’s stipulate three obvious facts: Mattis left in protest and did not simply retire.
President Donald Trump’s spin to the contrary lasted only a few minutes, until Mattis released his own resignation letter.
Doubtless many things contributed to Mattis’s decision, including repeated policy reversals on such matters as the establishment of a Space Force or the choice of the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but the catalytic event was Trump’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops still fighting the Islamic State in Syria, despite the strong advice of his top national security advisors, including Mattis, that doing so would be a major blunder.
And while it customary for cabinet officials to come and go, the pace of departures and the overall personnel and policy churn in the Trump administration is beyond anything seen in recent years. This is not normal.
To make sense of this, let’s carefully distinguish between normative (what ought to be) and predictive (what is likely to be) insights from civil-military relations theory.
Under the category of what ought to be for healthy civil-military relations, consider these five points.
Firstly, Trump’s order to withdraw troops from Syria was legal. Mattis was within his rights to argue against it but then was right to accept it and pass the order along the chain of command. Of course, Trump can reverse himself on this yet again, as he has done many times on other issues.
But it is certainly the commander in chief’s prerogative to declare that he believes the mission is over and it is time for the troops to come home, even if reality contradicts him.
The major premises of the move—that the Islamic State is so decisively defeated that the United States can take the pressure off without fear that they would return, that abandoning the Kurdish allies who helped achieve considerable success against the Islamic State will not hurt U.S. interests in the long run, and that catering to Russia and Iran and Syria’s policy preferences in this way will not adversely affect the regional balance of power—are all false. Presidents have the right to be wrong.
We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
Secondly, Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria was hasty and poorly coordinated. It had all of the trademarks of the failed policy rollouts that have marked the administration since the early days: tweets that contradict senior officials, no accompanying strategy to mitigate obvious downsides, no coordination with international allies and partners nor with domestic political allies, and so on.
But it was not merely a tweet; it was a genuine policy decision communicated to Mattis through proper channels. If Mattis had ignored this order, he would have triggered an immediate civil-military crisis.
There has been confusion about this sort of thing in the public commentary by Trump critics. Sometimes the president muses aloud in conversations with reporters or on Twitter, and in the process he can say something that, if constructed as a formal policy decision and order, would introduce total policy chaos—for example, Trump’s musings about rules of engagement for the troops he deployed to the border in the late stages of the midterm political campaign.
Subordinate officials, especially the military, were right to disregard those musings and to wait for formal orders. Many dumb things have been tweeted but not turned into orders. The Syria decision was different, and so it deserved to be followed and implemented.
The president ought to expect that orders like his Syria decision will be implemented (and, I predict, they will be implemented). He further ought to expect that policy mistakes like the Syria decision will be defended by his political appointees, as Trump’s senior advisor Stephen Miller did.
And if the political appointee—Mattis, say—cannot defend the decision, that appointee should resign. However, proper civil-military relations do not require that Trump’s uniformed military advisors defend the decision.
On the contrary, the senior military leaders, from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford on down to field commanders, are obliged by the norms of civil-military relations to give their personal professional opinion to their civilian bosses, Trump and Congress, even or especially when it contradicts the policy preferences of the president.
Trump should thus expect that Congress will call Dunford and others to testify and will ask them the awkward questions raised by the Syria and Afghanistan decisions: Will abandoning the battlefield give the Islamic State an opportunity to regroup and rebuild? Will Iran benefit from this policy decision? And how will the abandonment of the Kurds affect America’s ability to work with local partners in the future? Proper civil-military relations require that the military honestly answer those questions, even if its answers contradict the views of the commander in chief.
Mattis was able to resign in protest without triggering a crisis because he is a political appointee.
Dunford and the handful of top brass entrusted with being the strategic leaders of the military should not resign in protest, even if they agree with Mattis that Trump has committed a strategic blunder that will hurt U.S. interests and likely raise the butcher’s bill in the fight against terrorists and American adversaries.
It is possible to construct wild hypotheticals where a resignation in protest by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs might be warranted—say if the president was ordering Dunford to launch a nuclear attack against Mexico as punishment for refusing to pay for the wall.
But in most cases, even when the president is making a costly blunder, the “cure” of a military resignation in protest is worse than the “disease.”
This is because members of the military are supposed to serve as apolitical advisors in the policy process and then apolitical implementers of the policy once the decisions are made.
As a nation, Americans entrust the military with extraordinary power and influence and can afford to do so only if the military respects the norms of proper civil-military relations. One of those norms is that the military will not precipitate civil-military crises when ordered to implement policies they deem to be mistakes.
This does not mean that the president has unlimited power to do whatever he wants. On the contrary, Congress and the courts are empowered as checks on presidential mismanagement. The cabinet has constitutional power to put further limits on a rogue president. Everyone in the executive branch is required to follow the law and thus to defy outright illegal orders. And the First Amendment guarantees that individual citizens and the media can and should speak out when the president makes a mistake.
But these are primarily roles for other political actors. Healthy civil-military relations depend on the other civilians—not the military—holding the president accountable.
That’s what should happen. But what will happen?
Firstly, the departure of the most respected administration voice on national security—and the reckless moves that led to his departure—will mean policymaking will get harder, not easier.
The military will continue to obey explicit, legal orders, but they will likely exhibit lots more foot-dragging and other forms of bureaucratic politics to slow down policies they deem unwise.
The U.S. record of civil-military relations is an enviable one, but it is a record of what I call “military shirking,” namely military efforts to get policies to align with their preferences rather than the preferences of their civilian masters. And shirking increases when civilians are weak and when they try to push the military to do things the military deems unwise.
The civilian side of the national security house was already pretty weak in the Trump administration. Mattis’s departure makes it even weaker.
The departure of both Mattis and former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly likely ends the administration’s over-reliance on retired generals to staff civilian national security posts.
I supported the individual personnel choices that led to the surfeit of military in mufti, but I acknowledged it was problematic and would increase the risks of politicization of the force. Having seen the way Trump has treated former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, Kelly, and now Mattis, it is likely going to be a bit harder for Trump to recruit a retired officer into serving in this way again. This is a tiny sliver of silver lining in the dark clouds amassing above us.
The confirmation hearings for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs-designate Mark Milley and for Mattis’s successor will be brutal. Milley will be walking an impossibly narrow tightrope. Trump demands an unusually high degree of public expressions of loyalty and views even minor disagreements of opinion as disloyalty. Yet Milley cannot be confirmed if he tells outright falsehoods.
And he could well lose the confidence of the senior military he is expected to lead if he comes off as a political shill for the administration.
This is a challenge in normal times; these are abnormal times, and so the challenge will be abnormally great. The same applies in spades to Mattis’s successor, who first must be wooed by the White House to accept the nomination—something that the administration is manifestly struggling to persuade others to do—and then must walk the same tightrope.
Trump promised he would be an unconventional commander in chief, and this is one campaign promise he has unquestionably fulfilled. However, the conventions of U.S. civil-military relations still apply and are now being played out on the political stage. All is not calm.
Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy and Bass Fellow at Duke University, and director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies and the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy. He is co-editor of Elephants in the Room.
NOW WATCH: 7 things you shouldn't buy on Black Friday
Capping off what has been a tumultuous week for the Trump administration are reports from multiple outlets that offer some clues as to why President Donald Trump made his decision to pull US troops out of Syria that prompted Defense Secretary James Mattis to resign.
That development materialized last Friday during a call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after Erdogan asked Trump why there were still 2,000 US troops in Syria if the Islamic State had been defeated.
"You know what? It’s yours," Trump said, according to The Washington Post. "I’m leaving."
The Associated Press reported that members of Trump's national-security team, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mattis, wrote out talking points to dissuade Turkey from bringing troops into northern Syria and attacking Turkish Kurds, which would put US forces at risk. The US is allied with the Turkish Kurds in Syria, providing them with supplies and training in the fight against the Islamic State.
But both The Post and the AP explain that Trump went rogue.
"The talking points were very firm," one official told the Associated Press. "Everybody said push back and try to offer (Turkey) something that's a small win, possibly holding territory on the border, something like that."
John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, also allegedly explained on the call that a victory against the Islamic State would need to mean more than just a loss of territory.
Trump, however, sided with Erdogan, and the AP reported that even Erdogan cautioned Trump on pulling troops out too hastily.
Attempts by his national-security team to change course were not successful, and on Wednesday, Trump tweeted out a video where he said that he was withdrawing troops from Syria — catching lawmakers off guard. On Thursday, it was reported that Trump is also cutting down the number of troops in Afghanistan by half.
Mattis, having failed to talk Trump out of leaving Syria, submitted a scathing resignation letter on Thursday, rebuking Trump's "America first" foreign policy and stressing the importance of maintaining alliances.
Lawmakers — including some Republicans that have previously backed Trump— have warned that pulling out of Syria would be a boon for US adversaries. They also expressed dismay at leaving the Kurds, who will likely face an invasion by Turkey.
"If you decide to follow through with your decision to pull our troops out of Syria, any remnants of ISIS in Syria will surely renew and embolden their efforts in the region," a letter from four Republican senators explained.
"The withdrawal of American presence from Syria also bolsters two other adversaries to the United States, Iran and Russia," they continued. "As you are aware, both Iran and Russia have used the Syrian conflict as a stage to magnify their influence in the region. Any sign of weakness perceived by Iran or Russia will only result in their increased presence in the region and a decrease in the trust of our partners and allies."
Trump's campaign platform included ending wars overseas — which he sees as expensive — and on making NATO pay more in defense spending.
Brett McGurk, the top US official leading a 79-nation coalition fighting ISIS, resigned from his post on Friday in protest of President Donald Trump's sudden decision to withdraw all US troops from Syria, telling staff in an email that Trump's move came as a "shock" and a "complete reversal" of US policy.
"It left our coalition partners confused and our fighting partners bewildered," McGurk wrote in the email, which the New York Times' Rukmini Callimachi reported brought some staffers to tears.
McGurk, the special presidential envoy in the long-fought battle, was planning to retire in February, but sped up his departure as a result of the president's controversial and unexpected decision to pull all 2,000 US troops out of the war-torn Middle Eastern nation, CBS News reported on Saturday.
He wrote in the email, which was first reported by the Times, that he could not abide the dramatic change in policy, which Trump announced by tweet without consulting Congress or US allies.
"I worked this week to help manage some of the fallout but — as many of you heard in my meetings and phone calls — I ultimately concluded that I could not carry out these new instructions and maintain my integrity," he said.
McGurk's resignation comes just one day after Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced he is quitting over Trump's withdrawal from Syria, treatment of US allies, and the handling of American adversaries.
Just days ago, McGurk, a rare Obama administration holdover who has served three presidential administrations, said US forces would remain in Syria until "we have the pieces in place to ensure that that defeat is enduring."
"It would be reckless if we were just to say, well, the physical caliphate is defeated, so we can just leave now," he said at the State Department podium. "I think anyone who's looked at a conflict like this would agree with that."
On Saturday, Trump called news reports concerning Syria "mostly FAKE" and insisted that the terrorist group is "largely defeated" and can be contained by neighboring countries, including Turkey, despite the fact that the group retains as many as 30,000 loyal fighters.
"When I became President, ISIS was going wild. Now ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains," Trump wrote. "We're coming home!"
BREAKING: over his disagreement with @realDonaldTrump's abrupt #Syria pullout, special envoy Brett McGurk is accelerating his resignation from the @StateDept, reports @margbrennanhttps://t.co/16vXGrtelPpic.twitter.com/eZI8F7c58K— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) December 22, 2018
President Donald Trump on Saturday said he didn't know Brett McGurk, the top US official leading the fight against the Islamic State group, and called him a "grandstander" for resigning over Trump's decision to withdraw troops from Syria.
"Brett McGurk, who I do not know, was appointed by President Obama in 2015," Trump tweeted. "Was supposed to leave in February but he just resigned prior to leaving. Grandstander? The Fake News is making such a big deal about this nothing event!"
McGurk, who served as the special presidential envoy to the 79-nation Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, was indeed set to retire in February. But on Friday he announced he would resign early.
He told his colleagues in an email obtained by The New York Times that he could not in good conscience carry out Trump's orders to withdraw 2,000 troops.
"The recent decision by the president came as a shock and was a complete reversal of policy that was articulated to us," McGurk said in the email. "It left our coalition partners confused and our fighting partners bewildered."
He continued: "I worked this week to help manage some of the fallout but — as many of you heard in my meetings and phone calls — I ultimately concluded that I could not carry out these new instructions and maintain my integrity."
McGurk's resignation came one day after the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who wrote a blunt letter telling Trump he had "the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours" on issues such as respecting US allies and condemning its enemies.
Trump's decision to withdraw the troops triggered condemnation across the political spectrum, with many Republicans denouncing the decision out of fear that such a move would invigorate US foes and pave the way for an ISIS resurgence.
But in another tweet on Saturday night, Trump accused the media of unfairly criticizing him over the Syria decision.
"If anybody but your favorite President, Donald J. Trump, announced that, after decimating ISIS in Syria, we were going to bring our troops back home (happy & healthy), that person would be the most popular hero in America," he said. "With me, hit hard instead by the Fake News Media. Crazy!"
Trump also took a shot at Mattis, tweeting that he gave Mattis a "second chance" after former President Barack Obama fired him as the head of Central Command.
"Interesting relationship-but I also gave all of the resources that he never really had," Trump said. "Allies are very important-but not when they take advantage of U.S."