TRUMP ORDER TO WITHDRAW TROOPS FROM SYRIA AND AFGHANISTAN SPARKS BIPARTISAN CONGRESSIONAL CONCERN AND RESIGNATION OF DEFENSE SECRETARY MATTIS

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By Miriam Raftery

Photo: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned in his resignation letter of Russian efforts to "shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model...to promote their own interets at the epxens of their neighbors, America and our allies."

December 21, 2018 (Washington D.C.) – Prominent Congressional leaders in both parties have voiced alarm over President Donald Trump’s announcement yesterday that he plans to immediately withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. He also ordered the Pentagon to withdraw half of America’s forces from Afghanistan starting in January.

While that may come as welcome news to families of long-deployed military members, the decision was made without consulting Congress, military leaders or key cabinet officials. Many experts warn that this could plunge the region into chaos, allow ISIS terrorists to regain power, also benefitting Russian president Vladimir Putin, who has backed Syrian strongman Bashar Assad, as well as Russia’s ally, Iran.

It has also resulted in resignation of Defense Secretary and retired General Jim Mattis, known as the "warrior monk" for his deliberative approach to fully studying military matters before making key decisions.

Trump tweeted, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there.”  But national security experts in both parties make clear that there has not been a victory over ISIS, which remains a threat in the Mideast.   

Mattis resigned in protest over Trump’s unilaterial troop withdrawal decision and other recent actions that the Defense Secretary disagreed with including weakening alliances with European allies, calling for an end to military exercises in North Korea and ignoring Mattis’ advice in choosing the next chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff.. He will step down February 28th to allow time to find a successor “whose views are better aligned” with Trump’s.

In his resignation letter, Mattis criticized the President’s alliances with dictators instead of leaders of democracies. “It is clear that China and Russia…want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions—to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.”

Mattis added, “My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues,” again emphasizing the importance of strong alliances with allies who share America’s values.

California Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who is expected to be the next Speaker of the House in January, called it “premature” for Trump to declare victory over ISIS, then warned, “All Americans should be concerned that this hasty announcement was made on the day after sentencing in criminal proceedings began against the President’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who admitted that he was a registered foreign agent for a country with clear interests in the Syrian conflict.” 

A judge earlier this week admonished Flynn stating, “arguably, you sold out your country.”  Flynn’s sentencing has been postponed until March.Flynn pled guilty to lying to the F.B.I. after cooperating with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia which have now resulted in numerous indictments and guilty please by top Trump campaign officials including his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, Trump's attorney Michael Cohen, and former national security advisor Flynn as well as numerous Russian nationals and others. Some have suggested that Russia may have knowledge of illegal activities by Trump in his business dealings or Russian efforts to influence the U.S. election, and that Trump may be beholden to  Russia, a nation long viewed by the U.S.intelligence community as a hostile foreign power.

NBC news this week obtained a copy of a 50+ page agreement signed by Donald Trump proposing a Trump tower in Moscow during his campaign, even while he told the American people he had no business dealings with Russia.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, member of the Armed Services Committee, called Trump’s action   ordering troops withdrawn “chaos.” 

Brett McGurk, the Trump administration’s own special envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition, just last week said a U.S. withdrawal from the region would be “reckless.”

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio says bluntly, “It’s a terrible decision. I hope it can be entirely or at least partially reversed, or we’re going to pay a big price for it in the years to come.”

Senator Bob Corker, Republican from Tennessee and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Trump’s decision “in many ways even worse” that Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq that critics said led to growth of ISIS.

The pull-out puts at risk the safety of Kurdish and Arab military groups that have fought ISIS with U.S. backing, Syrian residents, and Christians in the Middle East; all faced massacre and persecution at the hands of ISIS. 

In Afghanistan, U.S. withdrawal could lead to resurgence of the Taliban or al Qaeda.

At least one Senator has offered praise for Trump’s decision.  “I am happy to see a President who can declare victory and bring our troops out of a war,” Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky wrote on Twitter. “It’s been a long time since that has happened.”

Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said he wants to see a long-term plan which the President has not provided.  “If we move the troops out, are we putting more State Department personnel in?  Are we putting more development dollars into the areas where you have some American interests at stake?”

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White issued a statement  confirming that the agency has “started the process of returning U.S. troops home from Syria,”  but adds pointedly, “The coalition has liberated the ISIS-held territory, but the campaign against ISIS is not over.”