President Donald Trump appeared to backtrack Monday on shock plans for an immediate pullout of US troops from Syria, but said his drive to end American involvement in wars made him a “hero.”
The shift came a day after a senior Republican senator said Trump had promised to stay in Syria to finish the job of defeating the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS.
Trump had earlier stunned allies — and prompted the resignation of his respected defense secretary, Jim Mattis — by abruptly announcing that the jihadists were defeated and that US troops in Syria were ready to leave.
However, in a tweet early Monday, Trump seemed to signal a more cautious schedule for pulling out the troops which support local forces.
“We’re slowly sending our troops back home to be with their families, while at the same time fighting ISIS remnants,” Trump wrote.
In contrast to previously emphatic victory declarations, Trump said that “ISIS is mostly gone.”
But reflecting his frustration at the outpouring of criticism over his Syria strategy, Trump lashed out at opponents and the media, saying that he should be given more credit.
“If anybody but Donald Trump did what I did in Syria, which was an ISIS loaded mess when I became President, they would be a national hero,” Trump tweeted.
“The results are FAR BETTER than I ever said they were going to be! I campaigned against the NEVER ENDING WARS, remember!” the president tweeted.
Trump also wants to bring home about half of the 14,000 soldiers locked in a 17-year war against Afghanistan’s Taliban guerrillas, although no formal announcement has been made.
In Syria, about 2,000 US soldiers operate alongside other foreign troops to assist local fighters battling Islamic State, a jihadist group that once held territory across much of Iraq and Syria and set up its own ultra-Islamist government.
Though much reduced, and forced into hiding, it is still believed to comprise thousands of guerrillas.
The US-led coalition launched its first raids against Islamic State in September, 2014, more than two years before Trump won the US election. US-backed forces seized the jihadists’ self-declared capital Raqa on October 17, 2017.
– A traditional leadership role –
Part of Trump’s appeal in his surprise 2016 election victory was his promise to get the United States out of post-9/11 wars in the Middle East.
During a lightning visit to US troops based in Iraq last week, Trump said the United States would no longer be the world’s “policeman”.
“We’re in countries that most people have never even heard about,” he said, referring to US combat deployments, including in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
“We don’t want to be taken advantage of any more by countries that use us and use our incredible military to protect them,” he said.
The view is popular with many Americans, but critics, including some of Washington’s closest allies, say the United States cannot abandon its traditional leadership role.
On Sunday, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who is one of Trump’s principal allies in an increasingly unfriendly Congress, lunched at the White House to urge a rethink on Syria.
Graham emerged after two hours, saying Trump “understands the need to finish the job.”
“I think the president is committed to making sure when we leave Syria that ISIS is completely defeated,” Graham said.
Another prominent critic of the pullout was retired US army general Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan. On Sunday he warned on ABC’s “This Week” that a US pullout would likely cause “greater instability” in the region.
In response to the uproar, Trump national security advisor John Bolton will soon visit allies Turkey and Israel, which each have their own complex goals in Syria’s multi-dimensional civil war.
Russia claims ships handed back to Ukraine ahead of summit
Russia said Monday it had handed over three navy ships it seized a year ago from Ukraine, in the latest move to ease tensions between the two countries ahead of a crucial summit.
After an exchange of prisoners in September and the withdrawal of some frontline forces over the last few weeks, the handover marked another step in trying to resolve the five-year conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Efforts have been building since the election this year of Volodymyr Zelensky as Ukraine's new president, and on Friday France announced he would hold his first face-to-face talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Paris on December 9.
‘Political blood in the water’: MSNBC’s Morning Joe mocks ‘desperate’ Trump for losing Kentucky and Louisiana
MSNBC's Joe Scarborough scorched President Donald Trump for squandering his political capital on vulnerable Republican candidates in two red-state losses.
The "Morning Joe" host questioned the president's decision to hold 11th-hour campaign rallies for Eddie Rispone in Louisiana and Gov. Matt Bevin in Kentucky -- both of whom lost their races.
"The president went all in," Scarborough said. "I want you to imagine a business owner whose daddy gave him $400 million, right? And then that business owner says, 'I'm going to start casinos in New Jersey,' right? Imagine that, and imagine a guy whose daddy gave him $400 million. We're just making this up right now, $400 million in today's dollars."
Trump is going through a mental health crisis that makes his judgment even more impulsive and ‘catastrophic’: psychologist
The first week of public impeachment hearings against Donald Trump in the House of Representatives has concluded. Despite the obsessive efforts of Trump’s Republican Party minions, his personal spokespeople and the right-wing disinformation media, the facts are clear: Multiple witnesses independently report that Donald Trump abused the power of the presidency for personal gain in an effort to bribe and extort the president of Ukraine into aiding his re-election campaign.
This article first appeared in Salon.As documented by Robert Mueller's report, the Ukraine scandal is part of a long pattern by Donald Trump and his supplicants to seek out foreign assistance to subvert American democracy, with the goal of first installing Trump in power and then keeping him there.