Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Far from effecting the overtly promised removal of the Russian sanctions and unable to stop his own government from cracking down on the oligarchs, I think Donald Trump is desperate at this point to produce a deliverable to Vladimir Putin. It’s not a good look:

Trump’s desire for a rapid withdrawal [from Syria] faced unanimous opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence community, all of which argued that keeping the 2,000 U.S. soldiers currently in Syria is key to ensuring the Islamic State does not reconstitute itself.

But as they huddled in the Situation Room, the president was vocal and vehement in insisting that the withdrawal be completed quickly if not immediately, according to five administration officials briefed on Tuesday’s White House meeting of Trump and his top aides…

…Documents presented to the president included several pages of possibilities for staying in, but only a brief description of an option for full withdrawal that emphasized significant risks and downsides, including the likelihood that Iran and Russia would take advantage of a U.S. vacuum.

Ultimately, Trump chose that option anyway.

Trump then used a child-like voice to imitate those who have questioned the depth of his global expertise. He switched to a deeply serious voice to imitate his rivals who have provided details: “If I’m president, I will engage the sixth fleet. I will do this, I will do that, I will attack Russia and Syria.” “This is what they say,” Trump said. “They want to start World War III over Syria. Give me a break. You know, Russia wants to get ISIS, right? We want to get ISIS. Russia is in Syria — maybe we should let them do it? Let them do it.” –Sept. 25, 2015, Oklahoma City

Two days ago, I wrote about my discomfort with watching a president who wants to end a military conflict getting pushback from the national security establishment. In other circumstances, I’d take the president’s side and fight for him like a cornered wolverine. But this is not a normal situation, and Trump isn’t a representative of withdrawal on the merits. He owes Putin, obviously, and he basically promised him Syria during the campaign. I think Putin is tired of holding his fire and he wants to be able to show some benefit to his decision to intervene in our election, especially now that Mueller is closing in, his oligarchs are getting their assets frozen and their laptops and cell phones seized at our airports.

There’s obviously an argument that can be made for taking our troops out of Syria, or out of the Middle East in general. But Trump isn’t making those arguments. I am not going to give him the benefit of the doubt on this. He’s not a peacenik. He’s not worried about the cost in dollars or lives of staying or going. He doesn’t have the power to overrule a veto-proof majority in Congress in favor of sanctions and he doesn’t have the balls to stand up to the national security establishment, the United Kingdom and our western allies and sit out the expulsion of Russian diplomats and the sanctioning of Kremlin-connected oligarchs. But, as commander-in-chief, he has the power to hand over Syria to Putin.

So, that’s what he’s going to do.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at