America’s stalled withdrawal from Syria

John Bolton © Getty images
Bolton: sending mixed messages

It has become usual for US president Donald Trump to make “norm-shattering pronouncements”, while his top advisers work behind the scenes to preserve the status quo, says The New York Times. But the latest row over policy towards Syria “is in a category all of its own”. Shortly after Trump “stunned the world” last month by ordering a rapid US withdrawal from Syria, “the administration began backtracking”.

Secretary of state John Bolton has now made the withdrawal conditional on destroying Islamic State and guarantees from Turkey on the fate of the Kurds (allies of the US, which Turkey sees as terrorists).

The U-turn is a pity, because “when an entire political establishment says a decision is mad, I tend to think something in it must be right”, says Simon Jenkins in The Guardian. Indeed, the “vehemence and cynicism of pro-intervention lobbies” can’t hide the fact that the US’s entrapment in the Middle East is more to do with imperial adventure than with America’s national security. In this case, the US president was right to try to put “America first”.

There are some “plausible arguments” for a Syrian withdrawal, says The Times, but an American departure now would open up a power vacuum that would be filled by Russia, Iran and Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president. That would reward enemies for years of “massacring and bombardment” and “send a devastating signal to America’s allies everywhere”. The US presence in Syria does not have to be open-ended, but withdrawal from a war cannot be “flagged in social media and conducted in haste”.