President Donald Trump, who has long boasted that he is smarter than the generals, ran up several white flags over the past 24 hours and crawled into full retreat on numerous fronts.
Most dramatically he declared victory over ISIS and announced a full and rapid removal of U.S. forces from Syria, despite the advice his top defense officials and diplomats. Trump rejected their argument that the 2,000-plus troops should remain until security conditions improve and a political solution can be reached, the Washington Post reported.
The retreat is part of America’s withdrawal from the region and leaves Iran and Russia as the dominant powers, who are there to assure Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power and spread their own malignant influence.
The big losers in Trump’s move are America’s closest allies in the region.
Israel and Jordan will face increased threats from Syria as they watch Iran build bases and beef up forces near their borders. Iran is there not only to shore up its Syrian and Hezbollah allies but to advance its goal of destroying the Jewish state.
Pentagon officers argued that abrupt withdrawal would betray our Kurdish allies and leave them vulnerable to a new Turkish military offensive aimed at wiping them out. Turkey has a long border with Syrian Kurdish areas to the south.
It could be that abandoning the Kurds is part of a deal he cut with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call last Friday. Trump has tried to persuade Erdogan to ease off his pressure on Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi murder. This may be his incentive move.
Trump’s unexpected decision may be tied less to the developments in the Middle East and the fate of the Islamic State than the state of his presidency back home.
It appears to be another of his diversionary tactics to distract attention from problems elsewhere.
In this case, he faced three embarrassing losses at home. Just a week ago he vowed to shut down the federal government if Congress wouldn’t give him the $5 billion, he is demanding to build his Mexican border wall.
He didn’t even have the votes to pass it in a Republican-controlled House much less the Republican-run Senate. Democratic leaders and veteran head counters Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer warned Trump he lacked the support he needed. Republican leaders sent the same message, but Trump plowed on until running into a different kind of wall — reality.
With no face-saving way out — of course, the faultless president will tweet and wail blaming others — he needed a diversion to cover that retreat. He found it in Syria.
Another defeat he tried to ignore came in U.S. District Court. Trump had wished his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, good luck in his sentencing hearing Tuesday morning.
The White House and Flynn’s attorneys had been accusing the FBI of tricking the poor naive former three-star general and head of defense intelligence into lying. They’d hoped that not only would he get no prison time but that charges would be thrown out and the special counsel rebuked.
Judge Emmet G. Sullivan disabused them of that rather quickly. “I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense,” he announced. Under questioning from the judge, Flynn admitted he lied to the FBI and knew it was a crime. Sullivan told him that while lying to investigators, “all along you were an unregistered agent of a foreign country, while serving as the national security advisor to the president of the United States!” Then the judge’s zinger: “Arguably, you sold your country out.!”
It was also a slap in the face of a president who had defended the disgraced former general while waging war on the FBI and the criminal justice system, even to the point of firing an FBI director who wouldn’t quash the Flynn investigation.
Trump may be treading carefully with Flynn because his former advisor’s secret meetings with the Russian ambassador may amount to collusion, something the president adamantly denies ever happened. What worries him most is what Robert Mueller knows and he doesn’t.
The thin-skinned president showed great restraint in not immediately (at least for now) launching a blistering twitter attack on the African-American judge who’d been appointed to this bench by Bill Clinton. Clearly, he must be a Hillary dupe. (Sullivan was originally appointed to lower courts by Ronald Reagan and George H.W.Bush.)
Another blow to the failing and flailing Trump presidency was struck by New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood when she forced the dissolution of his phony foundation. She called it “little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests.” The assets — after fines and penalties — will go to charities approved by the AG’s office. I’d like to suggest sending the money to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and NAACP just for starters.
White flags are flying over 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and Donald Trump’s week of defeats isn’t over yet. In a couple days he’ll grab his golf clubs and jet off to Florida, but that won’t be far enough to escape.
Sitting in the solace of Air Force One might be a good time to contemplate an important lesson: the worst wounds in Washington are self-inflicted.