It is becoming clearer by the day that as long as Donald Trump is President, no sovereign state—friend or even foe—should have any confidence in anything that Trump says. This President does stand behind anything statements that he makes. He will even deny that he said it. While this causes political problems at home, on a global level, it is downright dangerous.
When Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton arrived for discussions with the Israelis and tomorrow with leaders in Turkey, his message appears to be crystal clear. Until ISIS is thoroughly defeated and no longer a player in Syria, the U.S. is not withdrawing its troops. In addition, until America’s Kurdish allies in northern Syria are no longer threatened by Turkey or ISIS, the U.S. will protect the Kurds. Finally, the U.S. is demanding that Iran withdraw its forces from Syria so as to no longer represent a threat to Israel. Bolton’s remarks appear to be unambiguous and were agreed to by Secretary of State Pompeo as well.
The problem with Bolton’s position is that in the middle of December the President announced that U.S. forces were withdrawing from Syria within 30 days. Trump’s comments brought about Secretary of Defense Mattis resignation as well as that of Ambassador Brett McGurk special envoy to counter ISIS. On Saturday, Rear Admiral Kevin Sweeny resigned his position as chief of staff to the Secretary of Defense, also over the Syria withdrawal. There are others working in the Pentagon and the State Department who are frustrated by the type of decision-making system or non-system at work in the White House.
It ought to be crystal clear to all that no one can have confidence that any policy whim or fancy that President Trump proposes can be relied upon. In this case, for both Turkey and Israel—as well as Syria, Iran, and even Russia—no one knows what direction U.S. policy in Syria really will take. Tomorrow, Turkish President Erdogan could well blow Bolton out of the water and remind him that Trump had given him assurances in their telephone conversation that the Turks could proceed against the Kurds.
This is not a role of international leadership. At some point a nation and a leader will respond to Trump’s words and not wait for him to change his mind again. This could well be a moment when Trump’s behavior could produce catastrophic results for the entire world.