The first sign of trouble came in November 2016, about two weeks after the U.S. presidential election, when Donald Trump sat down with the New York Times and said he had some "strong ideas" about Syria. The article about the interview added at the time, "He declined to say what those ideas are despite several requests to do so."
Six months later, the Republican president declared with pride, "We're not going into Syria." It was problematic for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that the United States already had troops in Syria.
In late 2018, Trump ignored his team and announced a precipitous withdrawal of all U.S. troops, assuring Americans that "our boys, our young women, our men, they're all coming back." The president quietly abandoned that commitment soon after.
All of which helped set the stage for yesterday, when we were reminded anew that the president is a slow learner. Trump boasted to reporters yesterday afternoon, "Look, we have no soldiers in Syria. We've won.... We have no soldiers." He echoed the rhetoric at a campaign rally in Minneapolis last night, telling supporters he decided to bring Americans troops "back home."
"We don't have any soldiers there because we left, we won, we left, take a victory United States," he said. "Bring our troops back home." [...]"It's time to bring them home, we've done our job," he added.
What amazed me wasn't just Trump's willingness to make demonstrably false claims, but also his apparent unfamiliarity with the most basic elements of his own policy.
Whether he understands this or not, Trump hasn't ordered the withdrawal of U.S. servicemen and women from Syria. Rather, the American president moved a modest number of troops in order to allow Turkey to launch an offensive against our Kurdish allies.
The U.S. troops are still in Syria. He hasn't brought them "home." As Daniel Dale added yesterday, the United States still has about 1,000 soldiers in Syria, and that figure isn't poised to change.
Jonathan Hoffman, chief Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement on Tuesday: "We have made no changes to our force presence in Syria at this time." Less than an hour after Trump made his Thursday claim that there are "no soldiers in Syria," a senior State Department official told reporters that the US military mission in Syria is ongoing."We had and still have a significant military mission there to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS, also to maintain the stability of northeast Syria and the region given our other critical missions in the Near East," the official said on a conference call conducted on condition of anonymity.
So, here's the question: when Trump says he's bringing the troops home, and that the United States has "no soldiers in Syria," is he lying or is he genuinely confused about his own policy?