Donald Trump ignored his own Defense Secretary who quit rather than take the heat for withdrawal from Syria, ignored Republicans in his own party, and of course ignored Democrats, who all said pulling out of Syria and leaving it to Iran and Russia was an impending disaster.
And then Benjamin Netanyahu said something, and now Trump has done a 180.
President Trump’s national security adviser sought to reassure allies Sunday that the United States would be methodical about withdrawing troops from Syria, promising that the pullout would not occur until the Islamic State was fully eradicated from the country and Turkey could guarantee the safety of Kurdish fighters who have fought alongside American personnel.
John Bolton’s comments, reported by the Associated Press, contradict Trump’s mid-December promise to bring troops home from Syria “now,” an announcement that surprised allies and advisers, sparked an outcry from lawmakers, and prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. It is also the clearest statement yet from any of the president’s surrogates about how they plan to slow the implementation of his pullout plans.
“There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal,” Bolton said while speaking to reporters in Jerusalem, on a trip intended to allay Israeli leaders’ concerns about Trump’s announcement. “The timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement.”
Trump touched off global confusion and panic when he announced via Twitter on Dec. 19 that he would order the withdrawal of the 2,000 troops stationed in Syria to help fight the Islamic State. “Our boys, our young women, our men, they’re all coming back and they’re coming back now. We won,” Trump said at thet time.
Days later, while visiting U.S. troops in Iraq after Christmas, Trump told reporters traveling with him that he would deny any request from the military to extend the mission in Syria. “They said again, recently, ‘Can we have more time?’ ” Trump said of U.S. generals. “I said: ‘Nope. You can’t have any more time. You’ve had enough time.’ We’ve knocked them out. We’ve knocked them silly.”
But in statements since then, including remarks to reporters at the White House Sunday, the president has suggested that the pullout would not be completed so quickly, adding to the uncertainty about the timing of his plans.
Both allies and critics of the president warned that a hasty pullout of American forces could upset the balance of power in the Middle East, emboldening Russia and Iran, and threaten what tenuous stability U.S.-aligned forces had been able to achieve in Syria.
Bolton’s comments come amid reports that Trump had agreed to extend his initial 30-day deadline for withdrawal to four months. When asked whether Bolton’s comments would affect that timeline, a senior administration official said that “there is no specific timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, and reports to the contrary are false.”
Nonetheless, the plans and assurances the national security adviser offered in Israel were confirmation that withdrawal plans are on hold until conditions on the ground match the president’s stated assessment of the situation in Syria. As part of his announcement, Trump said the United States had “defeated ISIS” there — a claim that his advisers and political allies have disputed. ISIS is an alternative acronym for the Islamic State.
Russia wanted the US gone, so Trump said withdraw. Then Israel said no, and we're back to "staying until ISIS is defeated". At least in this instance, Israel's control of the US is stronger than Russia's.
But what really prompted this move? Remember that Trump believes he is America's greatest leader, and he wants an historic legacy, to do what Clinton, Bush, and Obama could not. Trump wants an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, and the sudden pullout in Syria prompted Bibi to pick up his ball and go home.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said Sunday that the Trump administration's Israeli-Palestinian peace plan - the "deal of the century" - will be presented "within the next several months."
The comments came during National Security Advisor John Bolton's visit to Israel this week. Bolton arrived on Saturday evening, and is scheduled to meet Netanyahu Sunday night. He was last in Israel in August, and this will be his second visit to the country since taking over as National Security Advisor in April. He will travel from Israel to Turkey for talks there expected as well to focus on the situation in Syria.
"It is not clear in which century Trump intends to announce his 'deal of the century,'" Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg said in response to Friedman's announcement Sunday." But we do not need to wait for anyone in order to begin the most important thing for the future of the State of Israel: a peace accord with the Palestinians. Netanyahu has already been negligent for a decade while not starting negotiations, and it is sad that Trump's way to help him in the elections is to delay announcing his plan, instead of accelerating it."
Trump's long-awaited plan has been delayed time after time. With Israel heading toward elections on April 9, a further delay was likely.
On one hand, Trump’s peace team says it cannot be responsible for embarrassing the country, the president or the administration by publishing a plan that falls flat on its face out of the gate. Yet it also refuses to give up, insisting that circumstances will serendipitously change just enough for the world to take the plan seriously.
Trump’s team – led by Jared Kushner, his son-in-law; Jason Greenblatt, his special assistant and envoy to the process; and David Friedman, his ambassador to Israel – have floated trial balloons on some of their proposals. Some have flown and some have not. But no one knows precisely what their initiative entails – many in Washington doubt a full draft actually exists – and so it is fair to say that its contents might still surprise the region and reframe discussion around the peace process in more productive terms.
Bibi has his own issues, facing imminent indictment for bribery and corruption charges, he dissolved the Knesset and called for new elections for April. Of course that means Jared Kushner's pet project will have to be delayed as well, and that finally got Trump's attention.
So suddenly we're back in Syria for the foreseeable future. Surprise!