A variety of prominent Trump administration officials -- including Defense Secretary James Mattis, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and incoming White House National Security Advisor John Bolton -- have all recently expressed support for a long-term U.S. military commitment in Syria. It therefore came as something of a surprise when their boss said the opposite.
Despite vowing to never publicly disclose his future military plans, Donald Trump declared last week, "We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon.... Very soon -- very soon we're coming out."
On Tuesday, the disconnect between Trump and the Trump administration became even more pronounced. Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, insisted that the U.S. mission in Syria was not finished, "and we are going to complete that mission."
A few minutes later, the president was asked whether he wants to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. "I want to get out," Trump replied. "I want to bring our troops back home." (At the same White House event, he suggested he might be persuaded to keep Americans in Syria if Saudi Arabia paid the United States to do so.)
The emerging picture is increasingly hard to understand: just about everyone in the Trump administration is under the impression that U.S. troops will remain in Syria, except the Commander in Chief, who keeps telling the public the opposite. Who's winning the tug of war? As of yesterday, we appear to have an answer.
President Donald Trump reluctantly agreed in a meeting with his national security team Tuesday to keep U.S. troops in Syria for an undetermined period of time to defeat ISIS, but pressured them to end U.S. involvement in the conflict as soon as possible, a senior administration official said Wednesday.The official described Trump as frustrated and exasperated with the situation and the answers he was getting from his team. "He wasn't thrilled about it, to say the least," the official said.
Maybe the president shouldn't have been quite so emphatic last week with his "very soon" rhetoric about withdrawal.
The Daily Beast's Spencer Ackerman reported yesterday, "A massive rift opened publicly on Tuesday between President Donald Trump and his senior advisers over the future of the U.S. military in Syria."
At least for now, it looks like the advisers are winning.