Congress, Pentagon and rest of the world try to make sense of Trump's Syria withdrawal

Dylan Stableford
·Senior Writer

President Trump is defending his abrupt announcement to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria amid a fierce backlash from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. But the president’s rationale for his decision is causing even more confusion on Twitter.

“Getting out of Syria was no surprise,” Trump tweeted early Thursday. “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 there 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,” the president continued.

President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria drew a stern rebuke from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. (Yahoo News photo Illustration; photos: AP, Getty Images, Twitter)
President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria drew a stern rebuke from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. (Yahoo News photo Illustration; photos: AP, Getty Images, Twitter)

On Wednesday, the White House formally announced the decision to withdraw 2,000 troops from northern Syria in a statement issued by press secretary Sarah Sanders.

“Five years ago, ISIS was a very powerful and dangerous force in the Middle East, and now the United States has defeated the territorial caliphate,” the statement read. “These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign. We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign. The United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary, and we will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists territory, funding, support, and any means of infiltrating our borders.”

The statement was issued two hours after Trump declared victory over the terrorist group in a tweet.

But Trump appeared to undercut his own “mission accomplished” message in a Thursday tweet asserting that other countries in the region “will have to fight ISIS.”

“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,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “I am building by far the most powerful military in the world. ISIS hits us they are doomed!”

“To those who say ‘we have defeated ISIS in Syria,’ that is an inaccurate statement,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Wednesday in a late-night speech from the Senate floor. “They have been hurt, they have been degraded. … [But] to say they’re defeated is an overstatement and is fake news.”

And Trump’s assertion that Moscow would not be happy with the troop withdrawal was immediately dispelled by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said he agreed with the decision.

“I don’t think they’re needed,” Putin said at his annual year-end press conference Thursday. “Let’s not forget that the presence of (U.S.) troops there is illegitimate. The U.S. is there without backing from the United Nations or an invitation from the Syrian government. Russia is there at the invitation of the Syrian government. But if the U.S. has decided to withdraw, that’s good.”

“It is not FAKE NEWS that Russia, Iran, and Assad are unhappy about our decision to withdraw from Syria,” Graham tweeted in response. “They are ECSTATIC!”

The announcement blindsided Graham and other lawmakers on Capitol Hill, although it drew praise from a few senators, including Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has been a longtime critic of American military engagement abroad.

“I am happy to see a President who can declare victory and bring our troops out of a war,” Paul tweeted. “It’s been a long time since that has happened.”

“The decision to pull out of Syria was made despite overwhelming military advice against it,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., countered. “It is a major blunder. It it isn’t reversed it will haunt this administration & America for years to come.”

The decision also appeared to catch allies, members of the U.S. military and even Trump’s administration off guard.

According to the Washington Post, a number allies who are members of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS said they “were not consulted and were given no prior warning.” And Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not participate in a meeting that preceded the announcement and “was in the dark until after it took place.”

“I don’t know how this decision was made,” Graham said Thursday at his weekly press conference. “It literally came out of left field. It has rattled the world.”

He added: “I can promise you, everything that has happened in Iraq is going to happen in Syria unless we change course.”

Trump responded to Graham’s criticism in another tweet that undercut his previous statements on ISIS.

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