Can a US president say hello to his generals?

Twitter as a stage for Trump's world politics

Donald Trump tweeted the day after the surprise that there was no question of a surprise. As is well known, he had already spoken the word about a withdrawal from Syria during the election campaign. Six months ago, when he repeated his intention in public, he let himself be changed again.

But now, the US President announced on Thursday, he will no longer listen to his generals, who still consider ground troops on the ground to be necessary. "Does the US want to be the Middle East cop who gets NOTHING for except sacrificing precious lives and spending trillions of dollars to protect others who in no way appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to stay there forever "It is high time that others finally started fighting."

Memories of Iran Deal

The decision is reminiscent of the exit from the Iran Agreement. Here, too, Trump allowed himself to be persuaded for a while to postpone what he had promised on the campaign stage. Before he finally followed his instincts and ignored the advice of experts and allies alike. The fact that he ignored cautionary voices in his cabinet this time as well, given the previous history, can only be a surprise in terms of timing.

In addition, the withdrawal order makes it clear how rapidly Defense Secretary James Mattis is losing influence - the last of a line of generals in the cabinet who, not least of all, the Europeans had hoped would bring the nationalists to their senses in the Oval Office. A hasty withdrawal would wreak even more havoc in the Middle East, Mattis warned a few weeks ago. The president has not only outvoted his Pentagon boss, but pretty much everyone who deals with the Syria cause in his government. Trump duped them all because they had just announced the exact opposite.

Deployed consultants

Syria representative James Jeffrey seemed pretty sure of his cause on Monday. The dictator Bashar al-Assad will not be able to sit out the US military presence, he lectured at an appearance in the Atlantic Council think tank. And Brett McGurk, who is responsible for the fight against IS in the State Department, just as categorically let it be known that there was no withdrawal timetable. Trump's security advisor John Bolton, in turn, had virtually ruled out a withdrawal in October: the US soldiers would stay as long as Iran and Hezbollah were present in Syria.

None of this remains in place, and the scenario of gradual withdrawal that some have suggested does not seem to be coming true.

The decisive factor was apparently a phone call from Trump with Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Turkey, last Friday. Erdogan had once again emphasized that he saw terrorists in the Syrian Kurdish militias allied with Washington. He is said to have asked why America was supporting these people and not the NATO allied Turkey, to add that the "Islamic State" had been defeated and Turkish troops would be ready to intervene if it did gain strength again.

Coincidence or not, four days after the conversation, the State Department informed Congress that it had given the go-ahead to ship the Patriot air defense system to Turkey - a $ 3.5 billion deal. Once again, critics note, Trump may have made a strategic decision largely out of commercial considerations.

Criticism, sarcasm, praise

In Congress, it is conservative hardliners who are protesting the loudest against the withdrawal order. Around 2,000 soldiers in Syria are a small footprint with a comparatively large impact, says Senator Lindsey Graham. "It is our insurance policy in the event that IS reports back," it is all the more foolish to forego it.

Marco Rubio, once one of Trump's more promising rivals in the 2016 candidate race, circulated a statement of approval from the Russian embassy in Washington, sarcastically claiming that he had finally found someone who welcomed the decision in Syria. Rand Paul, a conservative of the libertarian school of thought, often a sharp critic of Trump, was very different: he was proud of his president, he tweeted. "The president has the courage to say: We won in Syria and we are coming home." (Frank Herrmann from Washington, December 20, 2018)