Perhaps this difference in the latest Morning Consult poll highlights the political dangers of putting popular concepts into hard reality. Donald Trump campaigned energetically on the argument that the US had overextended itself into too many places and needlessly entangled itself in foreign conflicts without any direct benefit. On that point, Trump finds two-thirds of Americans in agreement.
It’s when he put that policy into action in Syria that it became a problem, although perhaps not much of one:
Few voters are on board with President Donald Trump’s decision to remove U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll that also shows fatigue over the nation’s military entanglements around the world.
Only 37 percent of voters support Trump’s decision regarding Syria, the poll shows, fewer than the 43 percent who oppose it. But a sizable number, 20 percent, say they don’t have an opinion about Trump’s decision.
That 37/43 split in itself is curious. Apart from impeachment, the betrayal of the Kurds and the forfeit to Turkey has been the dominant story for the White House the past fortnight. Having the Russians cross over to secure the middle ground between the Turks and the Kurds can’t paint this in any better light for Trump either. And yet, opposition to the policy only exceeds support by six points, with a fifth of Americans not caring much about it at all.
That’s likely because of rising skepticism of interventionism overall, a trend into which Trump tapped successfully three years ago, and which he tapped again today in his speech on the Syria withdrawal :
But while there is little public support overall for Trump’s decision, he is trying to tap a vein of U.S. public opinion that is skeptical of the country’s numerous military entanglements overseas. Two in three voters, 67 percent, agree that the U.S. is engaged in too many foreign conflicts, the poll shows.
So how did opposition to the Syria pullout get to 43%? And, for that matter, how did support fall thirty points below the level of those who think we’re overstretched? Mathematically, the opposition to it has to include a significant number of people who want to pull out of current conflicts in some manner, and nearly half of the people overall who took that position think something else about Syria.
There are three factors that might be impacting this, either simultaneously or one at a time. First, some might be reacting less to the policy than its execution. The withdrawal was hastily adopted, appeared unplanned, and our allies hadn’t been consulted. Even if one was inclined to argue that we needed to find an exit out of Syria, the method Trump chose was arguably among the worst of all choices.
On policy, some might think that Syria actually did involve key national-security interests for the US and its regional allies. The fight against ISIS isn’t over, and we hadn’t even figured out how to dispose of over 11,000 detainees from the collapse of the caliphate before allowing the Turks to attack their jailers. Furthermore, our withdrawal makes it easier for Iran to establish and strengthen its “land bridge” to the Mediterranean and to encircle Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.
Third, it seems likely that some of this vacillation is simply a reaction to Trump himself. Only 15% of Hillary Clinton voters from 2016 and 22% of Barack Obama voters from 2012 approve of Trump’s pullout from Syria. However, 65% and 68% respectively think the US is engaged in too many foreign conflicts; those gaps are wider than the overall gap between the two positions, which suggest that it’s more Orange Man Bad than the policy or the execution.
That’s not to say that the execution has been good, however. After getting blasted for pulling out of Syria and leaving the ISIS remnants to regroup, the White House claimed that the troops would simply move into Iraq to keep the pressure on against the terror network. The hell you are, came the reply from Iraq to Defense Secretary Mark Esper:
U.S. troops leaving Syria are only “transiting” through Iraqi territory and will depart within four weeks, Iraq’s defense minister said Wednesday. …
The Pentagon chief said earlier this week that the troops leaving Syria would reposition to western Iraq to continue fighting the Islamic State. But on Tuesday, he appeared to backtrack, saying that American forces would stay only temporarily.
Iraq’s military opposed the move, saying in a statement that the newly arrived U.S. forces would have to leave.
“There is no agreement for these forces to stay in Iraq,” the statement said.
The policy may or may not be correct, but the execution has been terrible.