It’s a messy, though typical picture. US President Donald Trump wants to pull out forces in Syria. When announced in December, jaws drooped and sharp intakes of breath were registered through the Washington establishment. Members of the military industrial complex were none too pleased. The president had seemingly made his case clear: US blood and treasure will not be further drawn upon to right the conflicts of the Middle East.
His national security advisor, John Bolton, prefers a different message: the US will not leave north-eastern Syria till the militants of Islamic State are defeated and the Kurds protected. If this was a message of intended confusion, it has worked. The media vultures are confused as to what carrion to feed upon. The US imperial lobby is finding the whole affair disruptive and disturbing. Washington’s allies attempt to read the differences between policy-by-tweet and policy by representation.
Trump’s pre-New Year announcement suggested speediness, a rapid removal of US forces supposedly indispensable in Making America Great Again. Once made, US troops were to leave in a matter of weeks – or so went a certain wisdom. “They’re all coming back, and they’re coming back now,” ventured the president. But Bolton suggested otherwise. US personnel, he suggested, would remain in al-Tanf to counter Iranian influence. Timetables could be left to the talking heads.
A change of heart also came from the White…