By this week, however, Mr. Trump’s intentions were anything but transparent. Officials were telling reporters that the Syria withdrawal would be extended over 120 days — and if Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) is to be believed, there may be no firm timetable at all. After having lunch with the president on Sunday, Mr. Graham tweeted that “the President will make sure any withdrawal from Syria will . . . ensure” that the Islamic State is “permanently destroyed,” Iran does not gain an advantage and “our Kurdish allies are protected.” That would require far longer than 120 days.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trump muddied the waters further, falsely claiming he had never said the troop withdrawal would be fast while disowning the 120-day calendar. Of Iran’s role in Syria, he said, “They can do whatever they want” — thereby contradicting Mr. Graham.
Not only the Taliban still poses a threat. As a host of experts have pointed out in the past two weeks, Mr. Trump’s claim that the Islamic State has been defeated is simply not true. Official U.S. estimates are that some 30,000 of its fighters may still be at large, spread between Iraq and Syria. Among present and former U.S. officials, there is a near-universal consensus that if the pressure on the movement is not maintained, it will quickly revive and pose “a threat to our homeland,” as former CIA deputy director Michael Morell and former undersecretary of defense for intelligence Mike Vickers wrote in The Post.
Mr. Trump owes those soldiers, and the country as a whole, a better explanation. If he believes the United States should no longer fight the Islamic State in Syria, or the Taliban and Islamic State in Afghanistan, he should deliver a substantive address to the country laying out why. He should dispatch his aides to Capitol Hill to detail his new strategy and answer questions. There would be many — which is perhaps why the president hides in the cloud of confusion he has created.