Trump defends Syria withdrawal amid sharp rebuke

DRIVING THE CONVO — President Trump’s surprise announcement that the U.S. will withdraw all its ground troops from Syria — against the advice of his national security team and top generals — drew a strong reaction from both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. Adding to the frustration among hawkish Republicans, Trump cancelled a meeting with outgoing Senator Bob Corker, while the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was waiting at the White House. Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton were immediately dispatched to explain the move, but the White House struggled to rationalize or detail “the deliberative process.”

Trump tweets this morning: “Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer. Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing their work. Time to come home & rebuild. #MAGA. Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever? Time for others to finally fight. Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us.”

HOW IT PLAYED — A Strategy of Retreat in Syria, With Echoes of Obama — by David Sanger: 
“Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said that if [Barack] Obama “had done this, we’d be going nuts right now.” … “On this issue — maybe on this issue alone — there is more continuity between Trump and Obama than would make either administration comfortable,” said Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations.” [NYTimes]

VIEW FROM JERUSALEM — Trump’s Syria withdrawal hurts Netanyahu, U.S. reputation, Israelis say — by Andrew Carey and Amir Tal: “An opposition figure described it as a surrender, while a retired air force general said it was a move that would damage the reputation of the United States… Political figures said the move was acutely embarrassing for Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has made his close relationship with President Donald Trump one of the cornerstones of his foreign policy.” [CNN]

— “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Trump administration had informed him of the move… “This is, of course, an American decision,” he said in a video statement. “We will learn its timetable, the manner of implementation and of course the implications for us.”[WSJAxios]

Netanyahu at the Israel-Greece-Cyprus summit in Be’er Sheva this morning: “We will continue to take very strong action against Iran’s attempts to entrench itself in Syria… We are not going to reduce our efforts, we are going to increase our efforts… and I know that we do so with the full support and backing of the U.S.” [Video]

Ilan Goldenberg tweets“I’m sure if Obama had done this the response would have been equally measured ?.”

Washington Institute’s Rob Satloff emails Jewish Insider“Israel cannot be thrilled with a U.S. volte-face on Syria that will leave the field open for Iran to complete its land-bridge to the Mediterranean and expand its influence in the country, all the while further sowing doubt about American credibility and staying-power in the region. In short, a huge shock to Israel and its reliance on the deterrent power of the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

Dore Gold, former Director General of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs tells us: “Western intervention on the ground in the Middle East has produced two results that need to be avoided. The first is a quagmire and endless war. But the second is that premature withdrawal emboldens the forces of jihad that will claim the West is weak. This latter problem arose when the Soviets left Afghanistan and al Qaeda was born. It was seen when Israel withdrew from Gaza and Hamas took over. This could give ISIS a new lease on life. It could also give Iran the sense that it is winning on the battlefield, regardless of the sanctions it faces.”

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