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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.

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Prosecutors charge parents of Michigan school shooting suspect

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The parents of a 15-year-old accused of killing four students and wounding seven other people at a Michigan high school have been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, according to court documents.

The latest: Lawyers for James and Jennifer Crumbley told the Detroit News they are "returning to the area to be arraigned," after law enforcement officials announced a search for the Crumbleys had been initiated.

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  3. Politics: Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers — New Jersey GOP lawmakers defy statehouse COVID policy — Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate — Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come.
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Putin to demand legal guarantee against NATO expansion in call with Biden

Biden and Putin meeting in Geneva in June. Photo: Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin is demanding a legally binding guarantee that NATO will not expand east — including to Ukraine — and plans to raise the issue in an upcoming phone call with President Biden, according to the Kremlin.

Why it matters: Russia has massed more than 94,000 troops on the border with Ukraine and could be preparing for a large-scale invasion at the end of January, Ukraine's defense minister said Friday.