It is perhaps the most important decision of the presidency of Donald Trump, and it is a messy chaos.
The government has been bobbing and has been waving on Syrian policy for two years. It bobbed again Thursday and started with a kind of withdrawal, just a few days after a top official had indicated that things could be put on hold.
Late last month, President Trump announced a total and immediate withdrawal of US troops from Syria, leading to two high-profile executions, including defense minister Jim Mattis. But then the administration seemed to kick back a bit. The timeline was drawn slowly and conditions were attached to it. All this culminated this weekend in the National Security Advisor John Bolton, in which he stated that the withdrawal would be conditioned on certain "objectives" that had been fulfilled: the complete defeat of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and an agreement of Turkey for not target the US. s Syrian-Kurdish allies once the United States has disappeared.
"We are going to discuss the President's decision to withdraw, but do so from Northeast Syria in a way that ensures that ISIS is defeated and to ensure that the defense of Israel and our other friends in the region is absolutely assured. and to take care of those who have fought with us against ISIS and other terrorist groups, "said Bolton Sunday in Jerusalem.
Bolton added: "There are goals that we want to achieve that will condition the withdrawal, and the timetable is the policy decisions that we have to implement."
These conditions are not met – or actually something close. Turkey, which helped Trump to withdraw in the first place, has completely rejected the American condition that it abandons the Kurds, whom it regards as terrorists.
The Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan even refused to meet Bolton during his visit to the region and called Bolton's remarks "a serious mistake".
"The message that Bolton gave in Israel is unacceptable," Erdogan said Tuesday in a television broadcast to his political party. "It is not possible for us to swallow."
It is also not clear where the Islamic State is close. As my colleague Liz Sly reported last month: "Signs that the Islamic State is beginning to regroup and rumors of dissatisfaction within the Arab community point to the threat of uprising."
Reporting indicates that, despite Bolton's remarks, the Pentagon of last month has not received any updates on his recording plans and is advancing with Trump's plan. An anonymous defender told the Wall Street Journal: "Nothing has changed, we do not take orders from Bolton."
It is not impossible to say what Bolton said with a partial withdrawal. His remarks never really said that there would be No withdrawal of troops without the conditions being met. Maybe he just said that the United States would not all the way withdraw until these conditions are met. Perhaps the speed of withdrawal is what applies here.
The spokesperson for the National Security Council, Garrett Marquis, said that Bolton, along with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., and Ambassador James Jeffrey, Syria, will implement the "five coordinated principles of administration for of the President's guidelines on withdrawal ". . "Among them, according to a senior government official, was that the withdrawal would happen" in a deliberate, orderly and strong manner "and that" the US will beat the remaining ISIS caliphate on the way out. "That suggests the conditions of Bolton are still in play, even with a current recording.
But if you are Turkey, and you see that the United States is already withdrawing – at least to some extent – then you have to wonder how ironic Bolton's demands were. We will see if the complete withdrawal really depended on the fact that Turkey would resign, because that does not seem likely.
And anyway, there is just so much confusion here, completely from the own making of the administration. As the Washington Hudson observed Thursday night, there is no real clarity as to whether the conditions of Bolton are in effect. Even the five principles set out in Turkey were more ambitions than requirements. Instead of making sure that the safety of the Kurds & # 39; absolutely assured & # 39; was, as Bolton required, they say: "The US wants a negotiated solution for Turkish security issues & # 39; and & # 39; The United States opposes any mistreatment of opposition forces against the US against ISIS. "
Trump has made it clear that he does not like to telegraph military movements, which is understandable from a strategic point of view. But in this case he telegraphed the whole thing in advance. And if you are going to connect conditions with something, you have to be clear about it. That is just not the case here and we seem to get a different indication every week about this recording.
The most probable conclusion, from there, is that there is no fixed plan at the moment and that the will of Bolton et al. Is still trying to shape a recording that is already in motion.
Bolton trivialized that idea Friday morning and told the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, columnist of Post, that "the media likes to split into the administration, it's a kind of hobby of them." He described all the above as "just a part of an unfolding plan. "
But looking from the outside, it seems like a great way to continue a hugely important withdrawal from a fight against terrorists.