Graham: Trump is in a "pause" on Syria withdrawal

Is the big Syria pullout no longer going to happen? That was the impression you may have gotten after Lindsey Graham sat down for lunch with President Trump. Graham had been a vocal critic of the announcement from the moment the President uttered the words last week and he’d publicly stated that he wanted to sit down and talk to Trump about it. After their meeting yesterday, Graham walked out of the White House and told reporters that things were looking up, making it sound as if Trump was having second thoughts and might be changing course again. (CNN)

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham suggested Sunday President Donald Trump now better understands the stakes in Syria and has agreed to reevaluate, for now, his plans to immediately withdraw all US troops from the country.

Still, Graham said, Trump remains committed to bringing American servicemen and women home, even as he continues to weigh the greater regional dynamics. He told CNN later in the day the President had not reversed his Syria orders.

“After discussions with the President and (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph) Dunford, I never felt better about where we are headed. I think we’re slowing things down in a smart way,” the South Carolina Republican told reporters at the White House, where he’d just sat for lunch with the President. “But the goal has always been the same. To be able to leave Syria and make sure ISIS never comes back.”

He added later: “I think we’re in a pause situation where we are reevaluating what’s the best way to achieve the President’s objective of having people pay more and do more.”

That sounded for all the world as if Trump was changing his mind on a major announcement and it caught the attention of all the news networks immediately.

Despite telling the press that he “felt pretty good” about the Syria situation after his meeting with the President, Graham seemed to realize that his comments were coming off as if he had strong-armed Trump into changing his policy. Given how well that sort of approach generally works out, Graham quickly walked back part of the story, insisting that President Trump hadn’t “reversed” any decisions.

“He has not reversed his decision” to withdraw troops from Syria, Graham said. “The pause is to assess the effects of the conditions on the ground.”

That sort of spin gives the President some breathing room if there’s a policy change coming. Graham goes on to explain that during the President’s recent stop in Iraq, his military commanders made it clear that ISIS is not “destroyed” yet, though they are on the ropes. If Trump is actually having second thoughts about a full withdrawal from Syria, that’s the sort of verbal queue that could insulate him from accusations of flip-flopping or making a rash decision. (The mainstream press will still roast him over it, but that’s just business as usual.)

But is it too late to reconsider? Once Trump announced that we were pulling out of Syria, the rest of the world took him seriously. Russia and Turkey already issued a disturbing joint announcement saying that they will be partnering up to handle the situation with both Syra and the Kurds. (This is bad news for almost everyone else.) If we’re now going to be leaving our limited number of forces in northern Syria for an extended time, that means everyone else has to slam the brakes on or we’ll be facing the possibility of American and Russian forces going head-to-head on foreign soil.

I don’t know about you, but that’s not the way I’d like to see the new year starting.

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