On Apr 3, U.S. President Donald Trump reaffirmed his wish to pull U.S. troops out of Syria but added that there was no final decision on the matter. According to the U.S. President, the United States’ primary mission in Syria - to defeat ISIL - has been fulfilled. "We've completed that task and we'll be making a decision very quickly, in coordination with others in the area, as to what we will do," he said on Apr 3.
While speaking in Richfield, Ohio, on Mar 29, Trump expressed strong displeasure with the fact that the United States had spent a total of $7 trillion on the Middle East wars.
Money is one of the key factors in Trump’s game. Perhaps, he hopes that Saudi Arabia and some other concerned Gulf monarchies will pay him for his decision to stay in Syria.
According to sources in Washington, Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and their advisors insist on a pullout, while the Pentagon dares to object. According to Al Arabiya, Trump’s key argument is the United States’ deteriorating relations with Russia and Turkey.
But the U.S. President may just be bluffing in hope that the Gulf monarchies will pay him money lest he might leave them alone in the face of hostile Iran and powerful Turkey.
And this is exactly what he said on Apr 3: "Saudi Arabia is very interested in our decision, and I said, 'Well, you know, you want us to stay, maybe you're going to have to pay'."
In mid Mar 2018, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman paid a three-week visit to the United States. He met with Trump on Mar 20 and the U.S. President was very sincere to him.
CNN did not specify who Trump was talking to when he said, "Without us you wouldn't last two weeks. You'd be overrun. And you'd have to fly commercial," but we guess that it was the Saudi Crown Prince.
Trump must have been inspired with the results of Salman’s “anti-corruption campaign” in Saudi Arabia. The one who can collect as much as $106bn from his corrupt subordinates should know that his external partners may apply the same tactics to him.
Trump’s firm attitude concerning Iran’s nuclear program has similar “commercial” implications. Saudi Arabia is no less interested in the Americans’ withdrawal from the deal with Iran than it is interested in their stay in Syria. So, if it wants something only the Americans can offer, it must pay for it. No coincidence that during his meeting with Salman, Trump spoke a lot about U.S. military products and the 120,000 new jobs military contracts with Saudi Arabia could give the Americans.
But Saudi Arabia is not the only concerned party here, so, it should not hurry to react to Trump’s “commercial offer.”
If the United States pulls out of Syria, Israel will have almost no defense left against Iran and Turkey. The U.S. troops deployed from Manbij in the northeast of Aleppo to Al-Tanf in the southeast of Homs constitute a kind of a “Syrian crescent” that protects Israel from the Iranian-Lebanese “Shia arch.” Should they pull out, Iran may open a military base near Damascus.
The Pentagon is critical of Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria and believes that the Americans still have things to do in Syria.
And even though Trump refrains from hasty decisions, he has not changed his mind. According to Associated Press, during their last meeting with Trump, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford presented him with a document “painting a dire picture of a pullout, of regional chaos benefiting Russia and Iran, and the potential resurgence of the Islamic State group.” “But even before they could begin their pitch in that meeting Tuesday, Trump headed them off, saying he wanted to remove U.S. troops immediately.”
According to AP, Mattis argued “that an immediate withdrawal” from Syria “could be catastrophic and was logistically impossible to pull off in any responsible way,” and offered a one-year timeline as an alternative—to which Trump responded that five or six months ought to do the trick, and “indicated that he did not want to hear in October that the military had been unable to fully defeat the Islamic State and had to remain in Syria for longer.”
But Trump does not yet have either a specific timeline or any official decision he could rely on. All he has is a general idea that the Americans should leave Syria some day but when exactly and on what conditions this will happen is not clear.
Trump’s six months are in fact the time he has given the Saudis for considering their next “investments” in Syria. Part of the U.S. contingent will be withdrawn in any way so Trump could show that his generals respect his opinion but his primary motive is that the Arabs must pay for their security or “they wouldn’t last two weeks.”
EADaily ’s Middle East Bureau