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Defense Secretary Mattis with President Trump during a meeting with military leaders in the Cabinet Room on Oct. 23, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Win McNamee via Getty Images

President Trump has decided to quickly withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, against the advice of his most senior national security advisers. The move prompted the resignation of Secretary of Defense James Mattis and sparked widespread concerns about an ISIS revival.

The big picture: Aside from the results of the decision, the manner in which Trump made it was deeply problematic. By upending the public and private messages his own officials send, Trump disempowers and alienates his own diplomatic team. He also creates incentives that make his foreign policy agenda more difficult to attain.

Trump reportedly agreed to the withdrawal during a phone call with Turkish President Erdogan, and at Erdogan's suggestion. This is not the first time Trump has engaged in such sudden decision-making over the strong concerns of his own team.

  • Earlier this year, he changed the penalties applied to Chinese company ZTE, after a direct request from Xi Jinping.
  • At his Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un, Trump agreed to suspend joint military exercises on the Korean peninsula after Kim asked him to do so.

Why it matters: Few countries will want to negotiate with officials from the White House or the State Department if they know they can get a better deal from the boss himself. This may be one reason Pyongyang has refused working-level negotiations over its nuclear program and instead focused on holding a new, leader-level summit. The temptations of personalizing diplomacy at the head-of-state level are great, but it persuades allies and adversaries alike to bypass the very officials hoping to execute the president's foreign policy agenda.

The bottom line: Successful foreign policy requires the president to fully empower a team that speaks for him. If Trump continues to make on-the-spot course reversals, he will make it more difficult for his administration as a whole to achieve its goals.

Richard Fontaine is the president of the Center for a New American Security.

Go deeper

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Tony Hsieh. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic

Tony Hsieh, the longtime ex-chief executive of Zappos, died on Friday after being injured in a house fire, his lawyer told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He was 46.

The big picture: Hsieh was known for his unique approach to management, and following the 2008 recession his ongoing investment and efforts to revitalize the downtown Las Vegas area.

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What's next: You ain't seen nothing yet.

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Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.