The analysis of how and why presidents make decisions have intrigued political scientists for generations. There are all sorts of models depicting how Presidents made decision even aside of those depicted by Doris Kearns Goodwin in her remarkable book, Team of Rivals, describing Abraham Lincoln’s modus operandi.
All Presidents approach the office of the Presidency with their own tools and frames of reference as to how decisions ought to be made. All of them, until Donald Trump, recognized that they need input and expertise in order to be most effective at presidential decision-making. This is what makes the decision that the President reached this morning to withdraw all of U.S. troops from Syria so extraordinary and scary.
All decision-making requires that there be a process which leads up to a President opting to make a move—especially in foreign policy. The fact that no one on Washington, except apparently a small inner circle of Pentagon officials, even knew that this was a decision that President Trump was contemplating is remarkable. Within that small circle of military officials, it appears that they all opposed this move and/or at least how it was being implemented. Few people in Washington appear to have been notified that President Trump was considering such a move and the response to the decision has left most of the town scrambling for an explanation.
Most of the descriptions being offered suggest a cynical, selfish, and personal basis for this decision. The result of this move could very quickly create an even more dangerous situation in the Middle East than already exists. For the people of Syria, for Assad’s opposition, for Israel, and for the Kurds the results could immediately be extremely dangerous. For Turkey, Russia, Iran, and Iraq as well as the radical Islamists it will create for them a clear a path to fight to the finish without fearing intervention or interference from U.S. forces.
Specifically, Turkey had already announced it was preparing to attack America’s Kurdish allies who have received U.S military support and encouraged by American leaders to act as the U.S. surrogate in the conflict against ISIS. Russia is delighted to have the U.S. out of the way thereby giving them carte blanche to solidify their place in Syria, where they already have created a major naval port. Iran can now assert its power by supporting President Assad thus permitting even greater Iranian presence in Western Syria. Radical Muslim forces which were nearing obliteration in the region now have breathing space with American forces removed.
Israel’s reaction—presumably because Bibi does not want to challenge Trump—was to accept the move with a public shrug; although Israel must recognize that this move intensifies the pressure on Israeli forces in the North and especially on the Golan Heights. Turkey has been pressing the U.S. to remove its forces so that Erdogan could lead a campaign to drive out the Kurds. It is fascinating that there has been no response so far from the Saudis whom one would have expected to have wanted American forces to remain in Syria; if for no other reason than to obstruct any further aggressive Iranian mischief.
Beyond the geo-political questions which are numerous in themselves, the unknowns include why the President made such a move for which he is receiving very little political support from either party and which is compounding the evidence of his incompetence to govern. All the chatter that has emerged among Members of Congress in both parties indicates that everyone assumes Trump wanted to distract the public and media attention from his growing political problems that have been mounting since his mid-term election debacle. As Trump’s legal complications escalate, by making international moves—he believes—he can demonstrate to his base how strong and effective a leader he continues to be.
The scary part now is that one can only speculate on why Trump took this action. No one wants to contemplate how dangerous his next move might be.