Less than two weeks ago, President Trump said he wanted to remove all American troops from Syria. Days later, after Syrian president Bashar-al Assad carried out his latest deadly chemical-weapons attack against rebel forces and civilians, Trump was reported to be blustering about punishing Russia and Iran, which would carry great risk of broadening the Syrian civil war. After his generals talked him down from that idea, he opted for a conventional, possibly fruitless strike on Syrian chemical-weapons facilities. And now, French President Emmanuel Macron claims that he has convinced Trump to commit U.S. forces to stay in Syria for a while after all.
Macron says he changed Trump’s mind in a phone call before the air strikes on Friday night. “We convinced him it was necessary to remain there,” he said.
Trump has a tendency of saying what his interlocutors want to hear, and we’ve only heard the French side of this story. (Though it should be said that Macron is one of the few nonauthoritarian leaders Trump seems to respect.) In any case, the claim is testament to the depth of Trump’s remarkable capriciousness on all matters, including those that concern the life and death of American soldiers. It’s not at all difficult to imagine to the president making a verbal commitment that would directly contradict a recently held position. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d changed his mind on Syria, after all. As Axios’s Jonathan Swan notes, it wouldn’t be the first time he reversed himself on the foreign-policy isolationism he espoused on the campaign trail, either. (See: Afghanistan.)
Trump’s complete lack of philosophical coherence is part of the reason Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May face fury from both their left and right for supporting Trump’s air strikes. Trump being roughly as popular as Ebola in their countries doesn’t help matters.
The White House hasn’t commented yet on Macron’s claim, but Trump is likely to swat down the notion that anyone told him what to do. He’s also likely to change his entire policy on Syria within the next three days.