Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa Bay news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Charlotte news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tombstones of slain Syrian Democratic Forces fighters in Qamishli, Syria, Dec. 6. Photo: Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump’s order to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria reversed recent pledges by a wide range of senior administration officials to remain there indefinitely — including one just two weeks ago by his top Syria envoy, Ambassador James Jeffrey.

The big picture: Trump’s tweet and abrupt decision have taken key allies and many in his own administration by surprise. Aside from being based on a false premise — the Islamic State, or ISIS, is down in Syria, but not out — the decision could have major implications for Syria, the Middle East and broader U.S. foreign policy.

The effects of a U.S. withdrawal will ripple across the region.

  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will see it as a sign the U.S. will not hinder his efforts to re-establish control over all of Syria.
  • Washington’s Kurdish partners in Syria — who led the ground fight against ISIS at great cost — will feel betrayed and may see no choice but to accelerate negotiations to reconcile with the Assad regime.
  • Turkey, which has been threatening to invade northern Syria to confront Kurdish rebels there, could take Trump’s decision as a green light to do so — potentially coming into conflict with both the Kurds and Assad.
  • Israel and the Gulf states, which were counting on U.S. support in containing Iran’s regional influence, will be stunned by a decision that is hard to reconcile with the administration’s repeated claims that it has no higher priority than standing up to Tehran.

The bottom line: As Brett McGurk, the State Department’s counter-ISIS Coordinator, said on Dec. 11, leaving Syria now on the pretense that the physical caliphate is defeated would be “reckless.” If Trump doesn’t reverse course — always a possibility — this sudden and poorly coordinated reversal could send a troubling signal about the U.S. foreign policymaking process and America’s reliability as a partner.

Philip Gordon is the Mary and David Boies Senior Fellow in U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former special assistant to the president and White House coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region (2013–2015).

Go deeper

39 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Trump revokes ethics order barring former aides from lobbying

Photo: Spencer Platt via Getty

Shortly after pardoning members of Congress and lobbyists convicted on corruption charges, President Trump revoked an executive order barring former officials from lobbying for five years after leaving his administration.

Why it matters: The order, which was signed eight days after he took office, was an attempt to fulfill his campaign promise to “drain the swamp.”

  • But with less than 12 hours left in office, Trump has now removed those limitations on his own aides.

Trump pardons former fundraiser Elliott Broidy

President Trump has pardoned Elliott Broidy, a former top Republican fundraiser who pleaded guilty late last year to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws as part of a campaign to sway the administration on behalf of Chinese and Malaysian interests.

Why it matters: Broidy was a deputy finance chair for the Republican National Committee early in Trump’s presidency, and attempted to leverage his influence in the Trump administration on behalf of his clients. The president's decision to pardon Broidy represents one last favor for a prominent political ally.

Trump grants flurry of last-minute pardons

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Trump issued 73 pardons and commuted the sentences of 70 individuals, hours from leaving office early Wednesday, hours from leaving office.

Why it matters: It's a last-minute gift to some of the president's loyalists and an evident use of executive power with only hours left of his presidency. Axios reported in December that Trump planned to grant pardons to "every person who ever talked to me."