President Donald Trump’s decisions to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria – and then to send them back into action – has raised new concerns around the world about the reliability of U.S. promises.
Since the beginning of Trump’s presidency, I and other foreign policy scholars have worried that Trump’s tendencies toward hyperbole, exaggeration and outright lying could disrupt a relatively stable international community.
For the last several years, I was relieved to find that didn’t happen. Some of the president’s public statements about NATO, trade and nuclear weapons were concerning, but largely didn’t result in major shifts in U.S. policy or changing courses of American action.
However, by announcing that the U.S. military in northern Syria would leave positions they occupied between Turkish and Kurdish forces – two U.S. allies who viewed each other as enemies – and then apparently reversing that decision, Trump has likely caused U.S. allies and rivals to view American commitments in a new, uncertain light.
Other countries have seen how quickly the U.S. can reverse longstanding commitments. They may now adjust their own diplomatic and military strategies to depend less on the U.S. That, in turn, may reduce the power and influence the U.S. has in the international community, increasing global instability.
In the first several years of the Trump presidency, bureaucratic lack of action in the Pentagon and the State Department meant that statements from the president didn’t actually change what U.S. troops and diplomats did in other countries.
The message other nations took from that was that they couldn’t totally ignore the president’s words, but they did not need to worry about their implications very much. Despite what Trump said, they felt they could continue to depend on the U.S. for assistance, aid and support.