By trusting his gut Trump has blundered on foreign policy

His charm offensive with Kim Jong Un, withdrawal from JCPOA and Syria are examples.

By Aamer Madhani & Deb Riechmann (Geopolitix)

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Published: Thu 24 Oct 2019, 9:30 PM

Last updated: Fri 25 Oct 2019, 12:05 AM

President Donald Trump's plan to reverse America's involvement in "endless wars" has run up against a difficult truth: When it comes to national security, rarely can a simple solution solve a complex problem.
After abruptly announcing last week that he would "bring our soldiers home" from Syria, Trump recalibrated, and his administration said it would instead redeploy more than 700 to western Iraq to help counter Daesh. 
And now his latest plan faces another wrinkle: The Iraqi military said those US troops don't have permission to stay in Iraq. 
Meanwhile, Turkey and Russia announced that they would jointly patrol most of the northeastern Syrian border with Turkey, underscoring the effects of the US creating a power vacuum the Russians have been quick to fill. 
In Washington, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, typically a strong Trump supporter, introduced legislation prodding the president to halt the withdrawal. But he counseled against economic sanctions on Turkey, lest the US "further drive a Nato ally into the arms of the Russians."
"This self-inflicted Syria evacuation was not well thought out," said Michael Knights, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. It's the latest example of Trump's from-the-gut approach to national security policy encountering roadblocks. Trump's charm offensive with Kim Jong Un has failed to prod North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programme. His withdrawal from the Obama administration-brokered Iran nuclear agreement prompted Iran to breach limits on its enrichment and stockpiling of uranium.
As for Syria, Trump announced the US withdrawal after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it clear in a phone call that his forces were about to invade to push back Syrian Kurdish fighters whom Turkey considers terrorists.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he planned to talk to Iraqi leaders to work out details, adding that the US has no plans to have the troops stay in Iraq "interminably," even as vice-president Mike Pence said the US will be grateful to its Kurdish allies, but now that the military has achieved its objective, the president is "keeping his word to the American people" about bringing troops home.
Trump initially announced his intention late last year to begin withdrawing troops from Syria, a decision that prompted the resignations of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat Daesh. At the time, there were about 2,000 American troops deployed to Syria.
The US pullout announced last week largely abandoned Syrian Kurdish allies who have fought Daesh alongside US troops for several years. Between 200 and 300 US troops are to remain at the southern Syrian outpost of Al-Tanf.
As US military convoys withdrawing from Syria for Iraq were pelted with potatoes and stones by angry Kurdish civilians, Trump played down US responsibilities to the Kurds.
"We never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives," Trump said. He added that the US would keep the small contingency force in Syria to "protect the oil," but there was otherwise no reason to remain. Trump added that "maybe we'll have one of our big oil companies" go into Syria.
McGurk said Trump's suggestion that an American company would exploit the oil "raises very serious legal implications." The former diplomat added that the pullout of all but a contingency force has negated the Trump administration's influence in the area.
Iraq's sensitivity over accepting more American troops on the ground is hardly surprising, said Knights, the Washington Institute analyst.
Calls for an American troop withdrawal intensified in 2017 after the Iraqi government declared victory against Daesh. Trump himself has claimed credit for defeating "the so-called caliphate."
Earlier this year, Trump angered both Iraqi politicians and Iranian-backed factions by arguing he would keep US troops in Iraq and use it as a base to strike targets inside Syria as needed.
In February, Trump sparked more outrage when he said US troops should stay in Iraq to monitor neighboring Iran.
The push by the Trump administration to put more US troops on the ground in Iraq comes as Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi's government braces for more protests in Baghdad and elsewhere over corruption, high unemployment and subpar public services.
"The last thing the Iraqi government needs right now is to turn attention to the presence of American troops," Knights said.

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