Speaking at Duke University Thursday night, Haley said that the US does not have plans to withdraw its estimated 2,000 troops from Syria anytime in the near future, and would make a decision on the issue only after the Daesh (ISIS) terrorists were completely destroyed.
"I think we've probably eliminated 80% of [Daesh*] – destroyed the caliphate, and are continuing to move in a good direction," Haley said. "What the president is saying is that that was always our priority – to defeat ISIS…When we defeat ISIS, he's not saying he's going to get out, he's saying we're going to work with our partners and our friends and decide 'what next'," the ambassador added.
The ambassador's words seemed to directly challenge President Trump, who said earlier this week that it was time for US troops to come home from Syria. "I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home," Trump said Tuesday at a press conference in Washington.
"I want to start rebuilding our nation," Trump added, pointing out that the US has spent $7 trillion on wars in the Middle East over the past decade and a half, and has gotten nothing out of it. "Seven trillion. We have nothing except death and destruction – it's a horrible thing. We were very successful against ISIS, we'll be successful against anyone militarily, but sometimes it's time to come home and we'll be thinking about that very seriously," Trump stressed.
Trump's latest remarks came less than a week after comments he made last Thursday that the US would be "coming out of Syria very soon" and letting "other people take care of it."
"Consolidating Our Gains"
However, along with Haley, other members of the Trump administration have also challenged the president's views. US envoy for the coalition against IS Brett McGurk stressed that America's mission fighting Daesh "isn't over," and that the US was going to "complete that mission."
US Army General Joseph Votel, head of Central Command in charge of US troops in the Middle East, added that it's vital for the US to play a role in "stabilizing" Syria after Daesh is defeated.
"The hard part, I think, is in front of us, and that is stabilizing these areas, consolidating our gains, getting people back into their homes," Votel said, speaking at a press conference with McGurk on Tuesday. "There is a military role in this. Certainly in the stabilization phase," the officer insisted. "The hard part, I think, is in front of us," he added.
The New Yorker, for its part, slammed the president with an article called "Trump Defies His Generals on ISIS and Syria," slamming him as a "foreign policy neophyte." CNN had a similar approach, accusing the president of "getting testy" with his own national security team.
- Screenshot from the New York Times.
- Screenshot from the New Yorker.
- Screenshot from CNN.
Economist Jeffrey Sachs was one of the few major public voices to offer support for the president. "It's long past time for the United States to end its destructive military engagement in Syria and across the Middle East, though the security state seems unlikely to let this happen," Sachs wrote, in an op-ed published by the Boston Globe.
According to the economist, the US approach of "overthrow[ing] the governments we don't like and replac[ing] them with ones we do like" is "naïve," and has served only to enmesh the country "in nonstop wars of regime change" throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
These wars, Sachs stressed, not only violate international law and cost trillions of dollars, but also undermine US democracy, because the wars "are conducted with secrecy and non-stop lies, and almost always fail in their aims." Ultimately, Sachs urged the US to end its military operation in Syria, and to "let diplomacy under a UN framework sort out the aftermath."
Trump's increasingly adamant position on a Syrian withdrawal is not new. On the campaign trail in 2015 and 2016, he promised to get the US out of foreign entanglements, and attacked both Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush for spending trillions of dollars and thousands of lives on Middle Eastern wars.
* A terrorist group banned in Russia.