The Middle East: An incoherent foreign policy
Our Middle Eastern allies “might be forgiven for feeling confused,” said the Financial Times in an editorial. First, President Trump announced he’s pulling all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria within 30 days. Then, the Pentagon walked that back to four months—and Trump tacitly agreed. “I never said fast or slow,” he said. On New Year’s Eve, Sen. Lindsey Graham said he’d convinced Trump that ISIS needed to be defeated, Iran neutralized, and the Kurds protected before America withdrew. Two days later, Trump said the Iranians “can do what they want” in Syria. Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed in Cairo that America will “expel every last Iranian boot” from the country. Then came news on Jan. 11 that U.S. forces had, indeed, begun to pull out, as Trump originally ordered. Clearly, “the administration’s Middle East policy is a hot mess,” said Jen Kirby in Vox.com. In his Cairo speech, Pompeo actually said the administration has “learned that when America retreats, chaos often follows. When we neglect our friends, resentment builds. And when we partner with enemies, they advance.” Maybe he should try explaining this to his boss.
“The foreign policy establishment is rightly horrified” by the impulsive and uncoordinated way Trump makes decisions, said Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky in CNN.com. But his gut instincts on Syria and the Middle East “are right on target.” He has “rightly focused narrowly on counterterrorism” and wisely avoided nation-building and new wars, while “disengaging from old and unwinnable ones.” Besides, said Eli Lake in Bloomberg.com, Trump’s Middle East policy just picks up where Barack Obama’s left off—that is, “working with allies against common enemies while reducing America’s military footprint in the region.”
If you think Trump’s Middle East policy is coherent, said Max Boot in The Washington Post, just ask his advisers. Like Pompeo, national security adviser John Bolton is “a fire-breathing” überhawk who has advocated U.S. military intervention, including attacking Iran and North Korea. “Now they have become yes-men and enablers for a president who is instinctively predisposed toward isolationism and appeasement of dictators.” Bolton tried to walk back Trump’s Syria pullout, only to have the president undermine him and start the withdrawal. Trump is “making fools” of his foreign policy team. Are the perks of power worth sacrificing “nearly every belief they have spent their careers advocating?” ■