Washington (GPA) – Contradicting Donald Trump, the President’s National Security Adviser, John Bolton has given signs of a potential indefinite delay in the US withdrawal from Syria.
Speaking in Jerusalem on Sunday, Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser, John Bolton seemed to walk back the US President’s plans to withdraw US forces from Syria in a blatant attempt to appease Israel. Although there have been delays in Trump’s initial 30-day timeline Bolton seemed to imply the US mission in Syria was not over.
According to Bolton, what the next step for the US really is, is to ensure the safety of the Kurdish population (and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces) against any military action by the Turks that “is not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States.” While Bolton then went on to say this demand by Washington was primarily so the Turks “don’t endanger [US] troops” but he also added that Turkey must “meet the President’s requirement that the Syrian opposition forces that have fought with [the US] are not endangered.”
Bolton then clarified that this promise to protect the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) means that rather than abiding by the latest four-month deadline set by Trump that there was no end date set for the US presence, but instead “the timetable” will be based on “the policy decisions that we need to implement.”
Among the policy goals highlighted by Bolton in Israel was the need to keep Kurdish forces from ‘switching sides’ (in Washington’s view) and helping the Syrian government with support from Russia. Although Bolton claims that the Kurds “know who their friends are” when it came to the US, some comments did seem to reflect a growing concern that the Kurds will flip causing Bolton to urge the SDF to “stand fast” and avoid any deals with Damascus.
These comments voicing the concern of a potential relationship between the SDF and Russia seems to indicate the real policy goals of the US. One major point of criticism of Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria by the foreign policy establishment is that the removal of US troops would leave a vacuum to be filled by either the rightful government of Syria or a Turkish occupation – both of which the Kurds would’ve lacked the ability to fend off militarily.
It now seems that, contrary to what Bolton is saying, the SDF is already coordinating with Syrian and Russian forces. The Kurdish fighters have already invited the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) back into the city of Manbij to block any Turkish advance but it also seems Turkey may be in on the deal and looking to buck some US influence in the region.
Turkish President Recep Erdogan seems partly responsible for Trump’s decision to leave Syria both by way of direct communication with the US President but also by military threats against the Kurds. This complex situation seemed to be enough to make Trump decide enough was enough on stalling a Syria withdrawal but also may have been a part of a larger Turkish attempt to coordinate with Russia, and Iran who have been working on the formation of a new Syrian government instead of with the US backing their enemies in Syria.
Since the US has withdrawn from Manbij and SAA forces have taken over, some of Erdogan’s rhetoric has cooled off when it comes to launching new operations in eastern Syria. The clearest example of this is the Turkish assault on Manbij that seemed imminent just a month ago. Following the retreat by the YPG from Manbij and the turnover of the city to the SAA, Erdogan said that Turkey “still supports the territorial integrity of Syria. These areas belong to Syria. Once the terrorist organizations leave the area, we will have nothing left to do there,” and said an assault on the city was unnecessary.
With this apparent cooperation between Turkey, Russia, and Syria, Bolton also had to add another excuse to the list and contradicted Trump a second time, this time by saying that the Islamic State wasn’t “defeated,” as Trump claimed. While what Trump said about IS is neither here nor there, what Bolton said about the group seemed to imply that the mission in Syria wasn’t over and that the US would continue to fight IS.
It is unclear just how much these statements by Bolton were meant to comfort the Israelis and how much reflects an actual policy reversal by the White House but it is another troubling sign that the foreign policy blob is attempting to stop Trump’s better instincts.
James Carey is an organizer based in Detroit, Michigan, founder of Geopolitics Alert, and an experienced analyst on Middle Eastern affairs with a particular focus on Turkey. He also covers topics ranging from Latin America and Asia to Europe. You can also hear James in his weekly podcast; The Left is Dead which he co-hosts with investigative journalist Jake Anderson.