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Bolton Goes Against Trump and Says No Pullout from Syria Until ISIS Threat Is Eliminated
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7 Jan 2019 05:35 PM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: John Bolton (Image source: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons)



Donald Trump seems to be the only person who believes it's a good idea to withdraw troops from Syria, other than Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). While he's backed the president, important names in Trump's administration have not. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned over the plan, and now National Security Advisor John Bolton is speaking out against the plan as well. 

Last month Trump insisted that troops needed to withdraw from Syria. Mattis disagreed, and it led to him resigning. Trump backed the Defense secretary's decision, then rushed his exit date by two months. He also said he refused military entreaties for more time.


Bolton, on a trip to Israel, stated that there were "objectives" that needed to be met before a complete withdrawal could happen. "The timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement." 

He admitted there were areas of the Islamic State that are still undefeated and that the Unites States quickly withdrawing from Syria could put U.S. partners and allies in danger, as well as U.S. forces. He plans to visit Ankara on Tuesday.


On Sunday Trump indicated he was still committed to leaving Syria but also backed down slightly as he said, "I never said we're doing it that quickly." 

There are still things that need to be decided before the pullout. Syria Kurdish fighters were trained and armed by U.S. troops on how to fight the ground war against the Islamic State, while Turkey, an ally, considers the fighters to be terrorists and has expressed a desire to drive them out of the area as soon as the U.S. presence leaves.


"It's also very important that as we discuss with members of the coalition, [and] other countries that have an interest, like Israel and Turkey, that we expect that those who have fought with us in Syria ... particularly the Kurds," not be jeopardized by the U.S. withdrawing," stated Bolton. 

He and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo both said recently that pushing Iran out of Syria was an objective of both the U.S. and Israel, but Trump seems to see Iran and Russia, whose Syrian forces support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as potential allies for the U.S. in their fight against the Islamic State.


"Iran hates ISIS more than we do if that's possible," he said. "Russia hates ISIS more than we do. Turkey hates ISIS, maybe not as much as we do, but these are countries that hate ISIS, and they can do a little bit of the fighting in their neighborhood also because we're fighting them in their neighborhood. 

"With that being said," he concluded, "we're pulling out of Syria, but we're doing it, and we won't be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone."


Pompeo is headed to the area this week to reassure allies that the U.S. is not abandoning them. A senior administration official, briefing reports on the secretary of state's trip, said reports that the Americans were leaving are "false news" and that there is no departure timeline to leave Syria. 

Bolton held a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said "the defense of Israel and other friends in the region is absolutely assured." He added that the administration would "make sure ISIS is defeated and is not able to revive itself and become a threat again."


House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) said on ABC News's "This Week" that Bolton's words show how dangerous Trump's initial announcing of withdrawal from Syria was. 

"We don't want ISIS to rise again and be a transnational terrorist threat, and we don't want our allies the Kurds to be slaughtered by Erdogan in Turkey. That was obvious," he said.


"I'm pleased that John Bolton has recognized the national security interest, and that's what we want to have," he added, "not a tweet going, 'Eh, let's get out of Syria." 

He'd liked to have Mattis testify before his committee, seeing his views as "invaluable."


Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said on "Face the Nation" on Sunday that Bolton's concerns were an admission that Trump "made a mistake, " adding, "I think this is the reality setting in that you got to plan this out. ... He has a goal of reducing our presence. I share that goal. Let's just do it smartly." 

"There are three things we want to accomplish as part of a withdrawal," he continued. "We want to make sure that, when we leave, the Kurds do not get slaughtered. ... We need to make sure ISIS doesn't come back once they're defeated, and Iran is not the biggest winner."


He believes that Trump "is slowing down, and he's reevaluating his policies in light of those three objectives." 

New Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney tried to iron the differences out on CNN. "The fact that [Trump] makes a decision that might be different than his advisers doesn't mean that he's getting bad information," he said. "It means he's relying on information other than what his advisers are giving him."

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