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WASHINGTON – Less than 24 hours after US National Security Advisor John Bolton stood in Israel and stated with confidence a list of conditions for President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of troops from Syria, the Pentagon announced that, in fact, their withdrawal was under way as he spoke, and the equipment was already packed up and headed home.
It was another embarrassment for yet another cabinet member, who was seeking to project a sense of order and policy cohesion within the Trump administration. Few in the Middle East are buying it. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even had to call his Turkish counterpart – following a dazed and confused visit by Bolton to Ankara days before – claiming their withdrawal plan is indeed “deliberate and coordinated,” as opposed to what it looks like, which is nothing of the sort.
Bolton and Pompeo have been touring the region this week to sell a policy of retreat they were not consulted on, that included no advanced planning and that still appears in flux. Pompeo’s approach, which was encapsulated in a message that was delivered in Cairo, was to gloss over any dysfunction and lay the blame on former president Barack Obama’s approach to dealing with the region.
“The age of self-inflicted American shame is over, and so are the policies that produced so much needless suffering,” Pompeo said. “The United States under President Trump has reasserted its traditional role as a force for good in this region. We’ve learned from our mistakes. We’ve rediscovered our voice. We’ve rebuilt our relationships. We’ve rejected false overtures from our enemies.”
“We learned that when America retreats, chaos often follows. When we neglect our friends, resentment builds. And when we partner with enemies, they advance,” Pompeo added.
Weeks after Trump’s dramatic Syria announcement, and after two regional tours from top cabinet officials, the administration has yet to explain how its new policy amounts to a retreat, or how it plans to prevent chaos from following its withdrawal as Turkish forces take aim at Syrian Kurds, and as Iran rushes in to fill the void.
As happened with frequency to their predecessors, H. R. McMaster and Rex Tillerson, respectively, Bolton and Pompeo return from their trips sowing further doubt in foreign capitals that they are empowered to speak for the president. It is a characteristic of the Trump administration that no official has been able to overcome so far.
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