Donald Trump's Syria Retreat Will Mostly Benefit Russia and Iran, Former CIA Deputy Director Warns

A former deputy director of the CIA has cited President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria as evidence of the commander in chief's "impulsive and reckless instincts" which have left the administration rudderless.

In an article published by Ozy, John McLaughlin condemned Trump for abandoning America's Kurdish allies in Syria, who have subsequently come under attack by Turkish forces. He also suggested that two of America's biggest rivals—Russia and Iran—would be the ultimate beneficiaries.

McLaughlin called the decision "a disaster on multiple levels." He explained the withdrawal "illustrates not only his reckless instincts on foreign policy but also the near-total absence of a process for making momentous decisions in his administration."

The long-time intelligence official said Trump's strategy could be described as "reverse gear" foreign policy. "Make the decision in a tweet or with a tiny group of advisers, throw it out the door, let people—including experienced foreign policy hands—react, then flip-flop if a critical mass of objections appears."

Such an approach, he argued, leaves other nations "shaking their heads and wondering: what is U.S. policy and how is it made?"

Trump's Syria withdrawal prompted criticism from across the political spectrum. The president has defended his actions, suggesting there is no longer a need for U.S. troops to be stationed in northeastern Syria.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, now fighting the invading Turkish army and its proxies, bore the brunt of the Western-backed campaign against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). At least 12,000 SDF fighters were killed in the fighting.

At a rambling Wednesday press conference, however, Trump told reporters that the U.S. "have spent a tremendous amount of money helping the Kurds…They're fighting for their land. When you say they're fighting with the U.S., yes. But they're fighting for their land."

Trump also appeared to try and justify his decision based on the fact that Kurdish soldiers did not fight alongside Americans in the Second World War. He said the Kurds "didn't help us in the Second World War, they didn't help us with Normandy as an example—they mention the names of different battles, they weren't there."

McLaughlin suggested that Syria remains important "if you see merit in maintaining U.S. international leadership and think it matters to keep promises to close allies." The country is "the touchstone for America's reputation in the Middle East, and our policy there will be judged by other countries around the world," he added.

The Turkish offensive will let up the pressure on surviving ISIS fighters, who are still fighting a guerrilla war across Syria, Iraq and further afield. They are not, despite Trump's repeated claims, a defeated force. "Weakening the Kurds will clear part of the path for its renewal," McLaughlin warned.

Ultimately, the U.S. withdrawal from northeastern Syria "means the U.S. will surrender most of its influence in resolving what many countries see as the key political, military and humanitarian conflict of this decade," McLaughlin wrote.

"The kingmakers will be U.S. rivals Russia and Iran, working with a wandering U.S. ally, Turkey. For many close U.S. friends, the world will seem to have turned upside down."

Donald Trump, Turkey, Syria, Russia, Iran
Members of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army are pictured driving to the Turkey-Syria border on October 10, 2019 in Akcakale, Turkey. Burak Kara/Getty Images/Getty