When President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that he would be withdrawing US troops from Syria because ISIS had been “defeated” there, it surprised many of his top political and military advisors. It also drew a backlash from liberal media and politicians from both parties.
The New York Times, Vox, MSNBC, and numerous other liberal mainstays ran articles or segments that either questioned or condemned the decision. The standard line goes: The suggestion that ISIS is defeated is patently false, withdrawing from Syria is a bad idea, and therefore the only logical explanation for Trump’s decision is that he was influenced by a foreign government as part of some sort of anti-American conspiracy. The notion that Syria is a “gift” that the US has given to Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, or Turkey is a common theme of this view.
Of course, as Caitlin Johnstone and others have noted, Syria is not a gift for the US to be giving to anyone and the US never should have been involved in the country’s civil war in the first place. Jon Queally of Common Dreams has provided a rundown of some of the progressive and leftist politicos and organizations that support Trump’s decision for these reasons and others.
Syria is not a “gift” that can be “given” to Putin, despite the blinkered American political climate which places everything in that asinine context. It’s a country over which the United States has no legal authority, and never did, despite years of casualties and billions spent pic.twitter.com/7WztDNedt5
— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) December 19, 2018
Let’s set the ethical and strategic implications of the withdrawal aside for now. What other reason could Trump possibly have had for announcing that he has defeated ISIS and is bringing the troops home?
In Wednesday night’s episode of her MSNBC show, Rachel Maddow went to lengths to make connections between Trump’s withdrawal “plan” and his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s shady dealings with the Turkish government that came to light earlier in the week as part of Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign.
Maddow’s conclusion: Donald Trump is now in even bigger political and legal trouble because of Flynn’s connections with Turkey…so it looks like he decided to make his own shady deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan involving a major foreign policy decision as soon as news of Flynn’s shady deal with Turkey broke.
Granted, that’s not beyond the realm of possibility for Trump.
There is another possible explanation. The short version is that Donald Trump needs some good news, even if he has to create it himself.
Trump campaigned on defeating ISIS and has repeatedly promised to do so in order to bolster support from his base. It is a very popular talking point among his supporters. He’s also in the middle of a really, really bad news cycle. Considering his sheer willingness to act on a whim, even on issues of vital importance, it is conceivable that Trump simply wanted to get some good news out to his supporters. As he grows increasingly isolated, he needs to show his remaining allies that, at least, he still has the support of his voters.
“Defeating” ISIS would be a big win for Trump in the hears and minds of middle America, so would bringing home the troops. It’s also a major distraction from the latest round of bad news that’s been hounding him.
Trump very well could just be taking a page out of the Lee Atwater-Karl Rove political playbook by saying something that is politically expedient with utter disregard for its accuracy, and then repeating the lie until it becomes the “truth.” He has, after all, doubled down on his assertion that ISIS is defeated and that withdrawing is a good idea, via tweet, of course. And he is, after all, the man who hired unapologetic propagandist Steve Bannon as his White House Chief Strategist.
Who knows whether or not Trump believes ISIS is actually defeated, or if he’ll actually bring the troops home. He undoubtedly doesn’t care about the accuracy of either statement and probably didn’t expect to face so much blowback. Either way, his constituents have demonstrated a formidable resolve for believing anything he says despite resounding evidence to the contrary.
*Featured image: Donald Trump via Wikimedia Commons.