Senator Graham (R-SC) said he felt better about the President’s plan to withdraw from Syria after he met with Mr. Trump on December 30. Graham sent this tweet on his meeting with the president:
The President will make sure any withdrawal from Syria will be done in a fashion to ensure:
1) ISIS is permanently destroyed.
2) Iran doesn’t fill in the back end, and
3) our Kurdish allies are protected.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) December 30, 2018
Graham also said, “We talked about Syria. He told me some things I didn’t know that made me feel a lot better about where we’re headed in Syria.” Graham’s meeting and subsequent press reports suggest President Trump has reconsidered his December 19 decision to quickly withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria but also that there is more to the President’s decision than his detractors are aware of.
Some thoughts on this development.
First, the President did the right thing by adjusting his plan to quickly withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. This shows that he is listening to experts, members of Congress and foreign leaders.
Second, whether or not one believes Mr Trump made a mistake in announcing the quick withdrawal of U.S. troops last month, it was irritating to watch some of the President’s former supporters run to Twitter and cable news to bash him for this decision. Many of these condemnations represented people trying to score points with the mainstream media and the foreign policy establishment at the President’s expense. Meanwhile, those of us who had problems with this decision but want President Trump to succeed worked behind the scenes to help his administration get this policy right.
Third, President Trump has raised legitimate concerns about the U.S. troop deployment in Syria. He is right that the U.S. worked with its allies to drive ISIS from 99% of the territory it once held. He’s also correct that the mandate for the U.S. force is unclear and has no exit strategy. While the U.S. force has a counterterrorism mission, American troops in Syria are not charged with stopping Iran and Russia from expanding their control in Syria. Contrary to the President’s critics, it was President Obama who handed Syria to Iran and Russia by his “leading from behind” strategy. The U.S. force of 2,500 is too small to undo this even if it was part of its mandate.
Fourth, if there must be a Western troop presence in Syria, it should be a NATO presence. The U.S. force in Syria benefits Europe since defeating ISIS stems the flow of refugees and jihadists from Syria to Europe. While several European states continue to participate in airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Europe should be sharing more of the burden in Syria by deploying ground troops through NATO.
I know President Trump has good advisers around him who are working hard to get his Syria policy right. The Center for Security Policy has been in touch with some of these advisers and we are optimistic about the outcome of this policy.