Trump’s Syria surprise is a new attempt to distract from bad news at home

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Donald Trump’s decision on Dec. 19 to pull US troops out of Syria wasn’t vetted by the Pentagon, the State Department, Congress, or US allies, and his rationale for it is false, foreign policy experts and military veterans say.

It comes as the Trump White House is losing a public-relations war on multiple fronts, as newly emboldened Democrats refuse to agree to funding a border wall, prosecutors conduct investigations into 17 separate aspects of Trump’s presidential campaign and businesses, and US stock markets experience their worst December since the Great Depression.

The Syria move is classic Trump: Throw up a controversial distraction, one that his loyal base supports, to draw attention from other weaknesses.

The situation in Syria remains dangerous and volatile. ISIS is far from defeated in the region, and civil war rages on. Trump, however, has declared victory, and plans to leave Washington DC tomorrow afternoon for an extended Christmas break at his private club in Florida. The White House won’t be issuing any “Week Ahead” guidance on the president’s activities between Dec. 21 and Jan. 6, the press office told reporters, indicating Trump plans to vacation the entire time.

Trump’s base wants troops home

On the campaign trail, Trump promised to bring home US troops, part of his nationalist message that sending the military overseas to intervene in conflicts or to alleviate human suffering will no longer be an American priority. His handling of US military might reveals a strange paradox: Trump wants to brag about having the strongest military in the world, while keeping the troops at home and assigning them to build barbed-wire temporary fencing to keep asylum seekers out.

Trump’s videotaped statement on Syria, released at 6pm yesterday, touts bringing home “our boys” ahead of the Christmas holiday: ”We’ve been fighting for a long time in Syria…and we have won against ISIS,” Trump says, “and now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”


While military experts quickly warned ISIS was not defeated, Trump supporters rejoiced. “This is what I voted for,” one commentator on pro-Trump Reddit group “The Donald” wrote. “No more pointless wars.”


The return of several thousand troops from Syria over the next 30 days may not be enough to keep most far-right Republicans who support Trump happy, however.

That’s because Trump appeared to capitulate to Democrats this week over a spending bill to keep that US government open that does not include funding for his wall on the US’s southern border. It’s the latest proof that Trump has never really wanted a physical wall and wants to use the issue to criticize Democrats for being “weak” and accuse them of wanting “open borders” as Quartz wrote this week.

That strategy is backfiring right now. Ann Coulter, the white nationalist commentator, called Trump gutless” in her latest column, and predicted he’ll lose in 2020. ” Rush Limbaugh, the radio talk show host, compared his backtrack to George H.W. Bush’s broken “no new taxes” promise, and Christian talk show host Steve Deace called it a massive “political betrayal.”

After a meeting with Republican congressmen today (Dec. 20), Trump said he wouldn’t sign any spending bill without wall funding, but it is unclear whether he means it.

A US military veteran started a GoFundMe campaign for private citizens to pay for the wall instead, and #GoFundtheWall is trending on Twitter. It has raised about $4 million, far short of its $1 billion goal, and even further from the tens of billions a wall that covers most of the US’s southern border would cost.

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Trump is meeting today with members of Congress about the wall funding and spending bill, the White House said.

The growling of a bear market

The US stock-market rise was a bright spot for most of the Trump presidency, but indexes have dropped so much this month that they’re on track for the worst December since 1931, CNBC reported this week. Things have only gotten worse, with the S&P 500 returning to June 2017 levels.

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Markets continued to tumble today (Dec. 20), and the Dow was down nearly 400 points at midday.

Trump Foundation trouble

The Trump family’s charitable foundation was dissolved on Dec. 19, after the New York attorney general brought a successful lawsuit alleging the foundation misused funds to help Trump’s campaign and businesses.

The day before, the sentencing for Mike Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Council advisor who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, was delayed after a federal judge’s harsh statements comparing Flynn’s activities advising Trump to treason.

More than a dozen other investigations into Trump and his businesses are ongoing, from the FBI special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into ties between the Trump 2016 campaign and the Russian government, to a probe into his presidential inauguration funding. (Wired has a great roundup of these.)

North Korea’s new challenge

To round out Trump’s tumultuous week, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un made new demands today (Dec. 20). He refuses to denuclearize unless the US removes its “nuclear threat” from the entire Korean peninsula:

When we talk about the Korean Peninsula, it includes the territory of our republic and also the entire region of (South Korea) where the United States has placed its invasive force, including nuclear weapons. When we talk about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, it means the removal of all sources of nuclear threat, not only from the South and North but also from areas neighboring the Korean Peninsula

The new demands reinforce criticism that Trump’s meeting with Kim in Singapore earlier this year was a misguided publicity exercise. Maybe that’s why Trump took to Twitter yet again this morning, retweeting his own video on Syria, and issuing a new, mystifying “challenge” to ISIS—don’t attack the US, or else: