On December 19, 2018, President Trump shocked the nation (or, at least, those in the nation paying attention) by announcing his plan to withdraw our 2,000 troops stationed in Syria.
According to the President, “Our boys, our young women, our men, they’re all coming back and they’re coming back now.(emphasis added) We won.” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders followed up by noting, “we have started returning United States troops home.”
The pronouncement, while controversial, was quite clear. Equally clear was that not all of the President’s men were in agreement.
Within days, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis resigned his position, making it quite clear where he stood on the President’s plans. Following on Mattis’ heals was our special envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, the highly regarded Brett McGurk, who announced that he too would be leaving his post in protest.
Despite the loss of key players in this particular drama, for better or for worse, President Trump had made his decision and had announced his plan to the world. While most reasonable people would agree that losing a popular and effective Secretary of State and an equally popular envoy who had gained the respect of both sides of the aisle on all things ISIS, the dye was cast and America’s days of military participation in Syria would soon be coming to an end.
Or are they?
Apparently, nothing is “done” when it comes to American Middle-East policy until Bibi Netanyahu says it is done.
Visiting with the Israeli Prime Minister over the past few days, US National Security Advisor John Bolton would appear to have gotten quite an earful from Mr. Netanyahu on the subject of America’s plans in Syria. Bibi did not approve of his friend Donald’s decision, expected it to be reversed, and wanted it done pronto.
Suddenly, that definitive statement of American policy in Syria expressed by the President of the United States just days before the Netanyahu-Bolton meetup, was being “re-announced” with certain conditions now attached. Those conditions were not only designed to appease the Israelis but had the added benefit of appeasing critics from both sides of aisle back home.
Not that the President had much concerned for the thoughts and concerns of his fellow countrymen and country women.
But more on that in a moment.
It turns out, Netanyahu understood what Trump did not.
Allowing the Turks to massacre their Kurdish enemies once America was gone – the very Kurds who have played such a major role in aiding the Americans in the effort to destroy ISIS in Syria- was not only bad for America, completely immoral considering that the United States had long promised to see to it that Turkey never got their hands on our Kurdish allies, but was also bad for Israel.
The critics in America also complained that what Trump was doing in Syria-leaving the battlefield before the war was completed-was repeating the behavior of his predecessor in Iraq where many blame Obama’s retreat for creating the vacuum filled by ISIS in the first place.
But when the folks at home said this, Trump wasn’t particularly interested. Coming from Netanyahu, it looks to have taken on a very different importance to Mr. Trump.
Trump had made clear, subsequent to a phone conversation with Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, that while he understood there were remnants of ISIS in Syria that needed to be mopped up, it would be the Turkish who would take responsibility for the final clean up. Trump had also suggested that he had some sort of arrangement with the Turkish leader designed to protect the Kurds from the expected invasion from the Turks who have made it crystal clear that annihilating the Kurds in the North of Syria was very much a priority.
In fact, it seemed like Erdoğan had convinced the American president that he could just pack up and go on home because Turkey has ‘got this’. No need to hang around.
It would appear that Netanyahu…like so many Americans…was not convinced. While Trump was able to be persuaded by a Turkish president (who has most assuredly proven that he is not a friend of the United States) that he had America’s back on this, the Israeli Prime Minister understood better.
As a result, the current plan is that we will not be withdrawing our troops from Syria until (a) ISIS is completely defeated and incapable of restarting it’s efforts and (b) the Turks provide effective assurances that they will not attack our Kurdish allies the minute we are out of the picture.
Given Erdoğan’s fiery response to the Bolton announcement, it is clear that Trump had never really bothered to accomplish a promise from the Turkish leader when it comes to protecting the Kurds-the same Kurds who did so much in the effort to defeat ISIS in Syria.
It is really quite sad that the United States showed no concern for what was to happen to an ally after it was determined that we no longer need them and that it took a foreign leader to get this straightened out.
But even sadder is the fact that our president’s mind can only be changed or affected when the suggestion comes from a foreign leader whose interests are in protecting the position of their nation, not the United States. Of course, there is the occasional exception to that rule where the President will listen to a high-profile right-wing radio personality.
Despite numerous calls for re-consideration on what so many Republican and Democratic leaders in America believed to be a devoutly foolish change in policy in Syria, the President was not interested until Bibi had him make the change.
What’s that all about?
Groucho Marx once said, when resigning his membership to the Friar’s Club of Beverly Hills, “Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”
That suits Donald Trump to a tee.
Now that America has made Trump its president, he wonders just how good a country we could be if we would elect him as our president? And if America has similarly selected the remaining leaders of both parties to lead, how good could they be if they belong to the same club that would have Trump as a member?
Trump appears to only have respect for the advice and counsel of those he feels he can still respect-other world leaders. He now wants to be in their club.
How else do we explain Trump mouthing the twisted & ridiculous explanation of the Soviet history if Afghanistan, an explanation only voiced by one Vladimir Putin before Putin personally ordered Russian history to “adjust” to meet that explanation?
And how else can we explain Trump’s remarkable about-face on the withdrawal of our troops in Syria only when Bibi Netanyahu apparently insisted on the same?
Bottom line here is that if you want to have an impact on the thinking of the American President, and you are not Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh, you’d best first find yourself a world leader whom Trump wants to be friends with and then submit your advice through that world leader.
Because it is the nature of so many like Donald Trump-people who lack real confidence in their abilities and overcompensate by constantly reminding you about just how great they are- to not wish to belong to any club that would have them.
But here is the really bad news-
Once Trump feels like he has been admitted to the club of world leaders, he will then think far less of them. He doesn’t care to belong to any club that would have him. And that means just one thing…
There will be nobody left to tell Trump anything…except for his coterie of right-wing radio broadcasters.
And that is a truly frightening proposition.