Roy Gutman, journalist - Leaving or Staying in Syria

Roy Gutman, journalist
Leaving or Staying in Syria


It’s one of those connections that clicked for me the moment I thought of it – Donald Trump and Charles Manson.  They link at the concept “helter-skelter,” a label Manson put on his vision of an apocalyptic race war, a fear-stirring fantasy not unlike Trump’s apocalyptic exaggerations of the “crisis” at our southern border.

But long before Manson, “helter-skelter” had a dictionary definition which perfectly describes Donald Trump’s decision-making as president: something done “in undue haste, confusion or disorder.”

Here’s one example of Trump in helter-skelter mode:  Syria.  On a morning in April 2018, President Trump finished a phone call with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and, without consultation or forewarning, announced that the U.S. would be pulling its military forces out of Syria.  His regional allies were shocked; his defense secretary walked out of the Pentagon, and his staff had one more stroke of presidential idiocy to reel back.

And they did.

There have been some reductions, but just last month, General Joseph Votel, the U.S. Army’s regional boss, head of Central Command, said he still had no hard outdate for U.S. forces in Syria. Pentagon planners were reported to be counting on keeping 1,000 or more troops in Syria indefinitely…or is it 200, or is it 400?

Of course, back in February, the Wall Street Journal reported the military was planning for a complete withdrawal to zero by the end of April.

Helter-skelter in the highest office in the land.



Roy Gutman has been a foreign affairs journalist in Washington and abroad for more than four decades. His reports for Newsday on “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia-Herzegovina, including the first documented accounts of Serb-run concentration camps, won the Pulitzer Prize, the George Polk Award for foreign reporting, the Selden Ring Award for investigative reporting and other honors.  He also was part of the McClatchy team that won the George Polk award for foreign reporting in 2013. His books include Banana Diplomacy, A Witness to Genocide, and How We Missed the Story: Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban, and the Hijacking of Afghanistan.  Since McClatchy closed all their foreign bureaus in 2016, Roy has continued to report for The Nation, Foreign Policy, Mideast Forum, and The Daily Beast.  He has most recently completed reporting a Frontline Documentary on Syria.



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