President Trump seems set on pulling U.S. out of Syria ‘very soon’

31.03.2018

For Trump, who campaigned on an “America First” mantra, Syria is just the latest foreign arena where his impulse has been to limit the U.S. role. (Leah Millis/REUTERS)
For Trump, who campaigned on an “America First” mantra, Syria is just the latest foreign arena where his impulse has been to limit the U.S. role. (Leah Millis/REUTERS)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s unscripted remark this week about pulling out of Syria “very soon,” while at odds with his own policy, was not a one-off: For weeks, top advisers have been fretting about an overly hasty withdrawal as the president has increasingly told them privately he wants out, U.S. officials said.

Only two months ago, Trump’s aides thought they’d persuaded him that the U.S. needed to keep its presence in Syria open-ended — not only because the Islamic State group has yet to be entirely defeated, but also because the resulting power vacuum could be filled by other extremist groups or by Iran. Trump signed off on major speech in January in which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out the new strategy and declared “it is vital for the United States to remain engaged in Syria.”

But by mid-February, Trump was telling his top aides in meetings that as soon as victory can be declared against IS, he wanted American troops out of Syria, said the officials. Alarm bells went off at the State Department and the Pentagon, where officials have been planning for a gradual, methodical shift from a military-led operation to a diplomatic mission to start rebuilding basic infrastructure like roads and sewers in the war-wracked country.

The officials weren’t authorized to comment publicly and demanded anonymity.

In one sign that Trump is serious about reversing course and withdrawing from Syria, the White House this week put on hold some $200 million in US funding for stabilization projects in Syria, officials said. The money, to have been spent by the State Department for infrastructure projects like power, water and roads, had been announced by outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at an aid conference last month in Kuwait.

The officials said the hold, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, is not necessarily permanent and will be discussed at senior-level inter-agency meetings next week. Read more....