Former GOP Strategist Says Trump's Syria Retreat Tells America's Rivals 'Now Is the Time to Make Your Move'

Former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt has argued that President Donald Trump's erratic foreign policy is making America less safe and undermining its international reputation, amid the U.S.'s strategically disastrous withdrawal from Syria.

Speaking on MSNBC on Monday, Schmidt said the decision was a signal to America's adversaries that now was the time to take advantage of an ineffective U.S. administration unwilling to uphold the post-World War Two "liberal order."

"We're in trouble," Schmidt told host Nicole Wallace, referring to America's withdrawal from northeastern Syria. "You see America in retreat, literally, with those trucks driving out of hard-won territory, precipitously with no care to how the withdrawal is done."

Many images and videos have captured U.S. military convoys leaving Syria, where Washington's Kurdish-led allies are fighting against Turkish troops and their allies invading Syria across its northern border.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had long sought to launch the operation—to clear wthe Kurdish fighters that the Turkish government considers terrorists—but Trump's sudden decision to order American troops to leave the area effectively gave Ankara the green light.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces—which bore the brunt of the Western-backed campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria—have turned to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers for help.

"We see from this the strengthening of the Iranian regime, the strengthening of Vladimir Putin and Russia," Schmidt explained. "We see hundreds, if not thousands of ISIS fighters have been freed from detention, they will go back to the business of terror and killing."

Schmidt argued that Trump has "sent a signal to all of our adversaries all over the world" telling them, "Now is the time to make your move, because the United States is in retreat."

Schmidt, who worked for the campaigns of President George W. Bush, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Arizona Senator John McCain, said Trump is "dismantling" the U.S.-led liberal order, built by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his successors.

He said the president's rhetoric could have come "straight out of the 1930s, from the era of isolationism that led to the world's greatest tragedy." The U.S. emerged from the horror of the 1940s as, Schmidt argued, "the world's indispensable nation," but this position now appears to be collapsing.

"We are clearly deeply in an hour of retreat on that front," he warned. "And we don't know what the consequences of that are five years from now, ten years from now, fifteen years from now. But we will be feeling it for a long time."

Trump's abandonment of the SDF shows the president has no understanding of, or respect for, "national honor," Schmidt continued. "We don't cut and run on our allies, the people that fought with us...United States foreign policy is not based on transactions, it is built on values."

But the decision will also undermine U.S. national security, boosting its rivals and allowing ISIS to regroup. Escaped militants are "not going to go into a jobs program, they're not going to community college. They're going back into the business of killing and killing westerners," Schmidt said. "It's a profound security threat for the United States."

Trump has framed the withdrawal as the delivery of a campaign promise to bring American soldiers home from unwinnable wars, particularly in the Middle East and South Asia. But Schmidt said Trump's erratic foreign policy will only complicate matters.

"That will weaken us in the long term in a region where America's presence is likely to be elongated—not truncated—because of the rashness of the decision," he told Wallace.

Trump's decision prompted criticism from across the political spectrum, including from some of the most influential GOP senators that have been among his staunchest allies. With the impeachment investigation ongoing, Republican lawmakers will likely soon have the chance to take a stand against Trump.

But Schmidt said he was not optimistic. "There's no evidence that any Republicans in the Senate are going to put their obligations to their duty and their oath above their fealty and allegiance to Donald Trump," he said. "If that happens, it will be remarkable given then fidelity they've shown to him thus far."

Schmidt suggested their continued support for the president is all about "a fetish for power, or proximity to power."

Donald Trump, Syria, withdrawal, Steve Schmidt, GOP
A convoy of U.S. military vehicles arrives near the Iraqi Kurdish town of Bardarash in the Dohuk governorate after withdrawing from northern Syria on October 21, 2019. SAFIN HAMED/AFP via Getty Images/Getty