Today’s above-the-fold front page Washington Post story “Bolton contradicts Trump on Syria” led the reader to believe that national security adviser John Bolton has gone rogue when he said during his trip to Israel over the weekend that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria is conditioned on defeating the remnants of ISIS and assurances from Turkey on the safety of Kurdish Syrian fighters allied with the United States. The Post article said that Bolton contradicted President Trump, who said last month that he wanted an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops and claimed that ISIS had been defeated.
Certainly Ambassador Bolton’s statements differed from what the president said about withdrawing from Syria last month. But it is well known in Washington that over the past two weeks, President Trump has been adjusting his plan to withdraw American troops from Syria in response to feedback from experts, members of Congress, and foreign leaders. This included National Review, which published a persuasive editorial arguing against withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria on December 19. The president’s position on this issue also was influenced by his recent visit to Baghdad.
Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted this on December 30, illustrating how President Trump’s position on a troop withdrawal from Syria has evolved:
I learned a lot from President @realDonaldTrump about our efforts in Syria that was reassuring. (1/3)
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) December 30, 2018
The Post article didn’t mention that Bolton’s statements about conditions for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria were no different than what President Trump told Senator Graham a week earlier. Instead, the Post tried to create the false impression of a rift between President Trump and his national security adviser.
Having had the privilege of working as a chief-of-staff to Ambassador Bolton at the National Security Council, I can report that Bolton precisely represents the president’s policies to American audiences and to foreign officials. Unlike some former senior foreign policy officials that President Trump fired, Mr. Bolton offers the president his candid advice that he keeps strictly private. Bolton also does not freelance or try to undermine the president’s policies.
This is why President Trump and Ambassador Bolton have worked so well together. It also is why the Post’s assertion that Bolton contradicted the president on his Syria policy is fake news.