Trump on leaving Syria: US doesn’t want to be ‘policeman of the Middle East’

US president defends controversial decision to pull troops out of Syria after widespread criticism, says US gets ‘NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars’

In this photo from December 18, 2018, US President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion about school safety at the White House. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)
In this photo from December 18, 2018, US President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion about school safety at the White House. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States does not want to be the “policeman” of the Middle East, US President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday, as he defended his controversial decision to pull US forces out of Syria.

“Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever? Time for others to finally fight….,” he tweeted.

Trump added: “Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us.

“I am building by far the most powerful military in the world. ISIS hits us they are doomed!”

The US president faced intense opposition to his abrupt announcement Wednesday that the Islamic State terror group had been defeated in the region, and that he was ordering the 2,000 US troops in Syria to exit the country.

A US soldier walks on a newly installed position, near the tense front line between the US-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council and the Turkish-backed fighters, in Manbij, north Syria, April 4, 2018. (AP/Hussein Malla)

Trump’s decision runs counter to long-established US policy for Syria and the region. It blindsided lawmakers, the Pentagon and international allies alike. It shocked even Republican lawmakers, who called his decision rash and dangerous.

“Getting out of Syria was no surprise,” Trump wrote in an earlier tweet. “I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer.

“Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing there work. Time to come home & rebuild. #MAGA”

The US withdrawal could have major geopolitical ramifications, and plunges into uncertainty the fate of US-backed Kurdish fighters who have been tackling Islamic State jihadists, thousands of whom are thought to remain in Syria.

US President Donald Trump (right) shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House on March 5, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

The announced pullout also raised concern in Israel, which has warned of Iran’s efforts to establish a military presence in Syria and has carried out airstrikes on Iranian-linked targets there.

Israel has repeatedly vowed to prevent Iran establishing a permanent presence in Syria and Lebanon and has carried out dozens of air strikes against Iran-backed forces and attempts to smuggle advanced weapons to Hezbollah.

In April, two US officials told the Associated Press that a phone call at the time between Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu grew tense over Israeli objections to US plans to leave Syria within six months.

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