President Trump’s surprise December 19 announcement of an immediate withdrawal of American forces from Syria hit some Israelis like a sucker punch. “With this withdrawal, the United States abandons Syria and leaves Israel alone,” said Yaakov Amidror, a former national-security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While conceding that “the effect of the U.S. decision is primarily psychological and diplomatic,” Amidror continued: “In those arenas, this is a very significant decision.” Subsequent reports to the effect that the drawdown of forces will be slower than originally announced and coordinated with America’s allies have softened the blow, but the shock still remains.
In retrospect, the announcement shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, Trump has never hidden his conviction that extended military operations in the Middle East are futile. He campaigned on the theme in 2016 and then returned to it last April. The United States, he declared then, had “spent $7 trillion in the Middle East in the last seven years. We get nothing out of it, nothing.” To this general observation, he added a specific promise: “We’ll be coming out of Syria . . . very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.”
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