Trump freezes $200 million in Syria aid
A day after saying U.S. troops would be out of Syria "very soon," the Trump administration announced that it is freezing $200 million in aid for Syrian recovery efforts that had been pledged by former secretary of state Rex Tillerson.
The administration's actions, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, send more mixed signals on a highly sensitive issue: Suspending the funds could alarm Saudi Arabia, Israel and others worried about growing Iranian influence in the restive region.
The White House ordered the freeze to the State Department funding following a news report the president read noting the U.S. had committed an additional $200 million to support earlier recovery efforts in Syria, a State Department official confirmed to POLITICO.
The additional funds were pledged by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in February during a meeting in Kuwait with the coalition to defeat ISIS.
Tillerson, who was fired by Trump on March 13, earlier this year introduced a strategy for the ongoing war in Syria that called for U.S. troops to stay in the country for the foreseeable future to ward off ISIS resurgence and Iran's influence.
Trump's declaration he wanted to soon end the U.S. presence in Syria was just the latest instance in which the president has publicly undercut or defied his foreign policy team, to the frustration and confusion of U.S. officials and America's allies.
I've never found Trump's Syria policy very confusing; he doesn't want to be there and doesn't think it's a good idea to pour money down a hole. What his "foreign policy team" wants is irrelevant. Trump has the final say.
Trump's instincts on Syria are spot on. ISIS has been pushed out of Iraq and is reduced to pockets of fighters in Syria. The threat of a nation-state of terrorists that can threaten U.S. allies in the region by conquering territory is pretty much gone. That doesn't mean that ISIS can't cause enormous trouble for countries like Egypt, Yemen, and Afghanistan. But this is a problem that can now be handled by regional powers like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
We have only about 2,000 troops in Syria, most of them special forces and most of them assisting the Kurds. But the Kurds are at war with Turkey – a war the U.S. is sitting out – and besides, within the political context of Syria's post-civil war environment, the U.S. has chosen not to agitate for Kurdish independence or any kind of a Kurdish state.
So getting out while the going is good would appear to be the proper strategy. As far as pouring money into a failed state like Syria for "recovery," let the U.N. divvy it up. Half of the money will be stolen anyway, so why bother? We didn't make the mess, and the American taxpayer shouldn't have to pay to clean it up.
The prospect of Iran using Syria as a base is troubling, but the Israelis are dealing with that problem and don't need or want our help.
All said, Trump's Syria policy makes more sense than just about any other foreign policy he has put forward.