His national security team had been trying to box him in like every other president. But he called their bluff.
– Gareth Porter
The mainstream media has attacked President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria as impulsive, blindsiding his own national security team. But detailed, published accounts of the policy process over the course of the year tell a very different story. They show that senior national security officials and self-interested institutions have been playing a complicated political game for months aimed at keeping Trump from wavering on our indefinite presence on the ground in Syria.
The entire episode thus represents a new variant of a familiar pattern dating back to Vietnam in which national security advisors put pressure on reluctant presidents to go along with existing or proposed military deployments in a war zone. The difference here is that Trump, by publicly choosing a different policy, has blown up their transparent schemes and offered the country a new course, one that does not involve a permanent war state.
The relationship between Trump and his national security team has been tense since the beginning of his administration. By mid-summer 2017, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford had become so alarmed at Trump’s negative responses to their briefings justifying global U.S. military deployments that they decided to do a formal briefing in “the tank,” used by the Joint Chiefs for meetings at the Pentagon.
But when Mattis and Dunford sang the praises of the “rules-based, international democratic order” that has “kept the peace for 70 years,” Trump simply shook his head in disbelief.
By the end of that year, however, Mattis, Dunford, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo believed they’d succeeded in getting Trump to use U.S. troops not only to defeat Islamic State but to “stabilize” the entire northeast sector of Syria and balance Russian and Iranian-sponsored forces. Yet they ignored warning signs of Trump’s continuing displeasure with their vision of a more or less permanent American military presence in Syria. …