Despite facing widespread criticism from foreign allies, domestic national security officials and Democrat and Republican lawmakers alike for his plan to pull troops out of Syria, President Donald Trump has found at least one supporter in the most unlikely of places: CNN.
“But isn’t it true that the public … is more with Trump than with the politicians on this one?” CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin asked Monday on CNN after members of a panel took turns decrying the pullout from Syria.
“Do you think there’s an enormous desire for our troops to be over in Syria for years more — to be in Afghanistan for almost 20 years? I think the president may have his finger on the pulse. I don’t know if it is in the national security interest, but I don’t see this as a political negative for the president at all.”
Was his point about the public valid, though? It depends on which poll you cite.
A Pew Research Center poll conducted weeks after the president first announced a withdrawal from Syria in December (he later reneged on this pullout) found that a 45 percent plurality of Americans thought pulling out would be the wrong decision, while a smaller 43 percent minority felt it would be the right decision.
An earlier poll from July of 2018 found that a 57 percent majority of Americans and 69 percent ultra-majority of the Republican base “supported using U.S. troops to combat Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria.”
However, when Americans were questioned by Politico/Morning Consult in January about the president’s specific plan — which called for “an immediate withdrawal of more than 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria” — support rose to 48 percent, while opposition dropped to 35 percent.
According to CNN senior reporter Nia-Malika Henderson, there’s another factor to keep in mind: the president’s campaign promises of 2016.
“It’s certainly what he ran on,” she said of the president’s announcement. “He sounded a bit like [Sen.] Rand Paul as he was running for the Republican nomination and clearly got the Republican nomination and is in many ways governed in this way.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 14, 2016
Why then has it taken over two years of him being in office for the president to finally pursue withdrawal?
Writing in Forbes only days after the 2016 election, Cato Institute Senior Fellow Doug Bandow pointed out that while Trump “appears to recognize that Syria is not America’s responsibility,” his top officials “take a more militaristic perspective.”
Officials like former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who resigned immediately after the president’s first withdrawal announcement.
With Mattis out the way, congressional Republicans have since taken up the slack.
“We’ve seen very few signs that any Republicans are going to break away from him in any serious way on the Ukraine scandal, but with this, we did see Republicans remember who they are in terms of national security policy and just in terms of being hawks when it comes to national security,” Henderson added.
It’s not surprising given that traditional Republicanism has always prioritized foreign intervention over domestic concerns.
“Look at what George Bush said and did, George W. Bush, versus Donald Trump. You would think they were not just from different parties but from different planets,” CNN political commentator Chris Cillizza said as the panel discussion continued.
True, but that’s what got him elected.
“It’s time to shake the rust off America’s foreign policy,” Trump proudly announced while unveiling his foreign policy plans in April of 2016. “It’s time to invite new voices and new visions into the fold, something we have to do. The direction I will outline today will also return us to a timeless principle.”
“My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people and American security above all else. It has to be first. Has to be. That will be the foundation of every single decision that I will make. America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration. But to chart our path forward, we must first briefly take a look back. We have a lot to be proud of.”
Listen to the whole speech below:
The panel host, Wolf Blitzer, then chimed in to relay an intriguing fact about the president.
“I used to interview Donald Trump before he became president, going back 20 years, and on this issue, he’s been very consistent,” the CNN host said.
“Get the troops out of Iraq. Get them out of Afghanistan. At that time there were no troops in Syria. He didn’t want — he didn’t even want troops in Japan or South Korea or Germany. Why are they there? The United States is spending too much — he would say that consistently for the longest time.”
Unlike lawmakers such as Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, the president isn’t into flip-flopping.
Former Obama administration State Department spokesperson John Kirby concluded the discussion by making one last push to convince the American people that Trump is wrong to pull out of Syria.
“I understand many Americans are uncomfortable with troops in harm’s way for extended periods of time and our troops are bearing the brunt of that and they would appreciate a break as well,” he said.
“But there are some real significant pragmatic reasons for our national security to have them doing certain things. The footprint in Syria hasn’t been that big. It has been very specifically targeted against ISIS. And ISIS was and remains a legitimate threat to our interests and our allies and partners.”
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