President Donald Trump grew irritated with his top military brass and national security team on Tuesday when they advised him an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Syria would be unwise and could not provide a timeline for when American forces could exit, people familiar with the matter said.
In a sometimes-tense meeting of his national security team, Trump complained at length about the amount of American money being spent in the region, which he said had produced nothing for the US in return, according to senior administration officials.
And he continued to question why other countries in the region — particularly the wealthy Gulf nations — haven’t stepped in.
Despite his annoyance and public statement to the contrary, Trump agreed to hold off on immediately pulling troops from the war-plagued nation, even after airing his displeasure with top national security officials.
The White House declined to comment on the tone of the meeting.
It’s a scenario that has played out repeatedly since Trump entered office last year. He’s clashed with advisers over the Iran nuclear deal, Afghanistan strategy and tariffs, particularly when he believes his campaign promises aren’t being upheld. As he transitions to a new national security team, Trump has made clear he wants advisers who agree in principle with his core beliefs.
But even one of those incoming advisers — CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who Trump has tapped to serve as secretary of state — has told him that an immediate withdrawal from Syria would be a mistake.
The incoming national security adviser, former Ambassador John Bolton, didn’t participate in Tuesday’s session at the White House. Trump has told confidants that he believes Bolton “has his back” on the Syria matter. It’s not clear where Bolton stands on the issue, however, though he has favored actions that thwart Iran’s influence in the region. Bolton hasn’t commented publicly about Syria since accepting the position last month.