The foreign policy of the United States in places like Syria has been “contradictory” for several years, according to the former chief of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence services.
Speaking to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble in Abu Dhabi Saturday, Saudi Arabian Prince Turki Al-Faisal said: “The situation in Syria, we really don’t know where the United States is, for example, is it in or is it out?”
Trump recently announced that U.S. forces in northeastern Syria would move aside, clearing the way for a Turkish offensive that is now in its fourth day. The Turkish operation is aimed at moving the U.S.-backed Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), away from its southern border with Syria.
Ankara views the group as terrorists and stresses the YPG’s ties to a separatist Kurdish group in Turkey, the PKK, which has carried out a decades-long violent insurgency against the Turkish state. Nonetheless, Kurdish forces were a strategic partner to the U.S. and played a crucial role in defeating the so-called Islamic State.
Trump’s controversial move has received widespread criticism in the international community. The U.S. administration has also been accused of sending mixed messages by, at times, distancing itself from the Kurdish militia but also preparing sanctions on Turkey if it steps over the line.
Al-Faisal noted his concern at the American troop withdrawal, telling CNBC that for U.S. forces “to all of a sudden, fold up their tents and silently fade away is, I think, not the right thing to do.” But he added that these contradictory statements from the White House didn’t start under the Trump regime.
“That’s been the case not just since Trump but since Obama. You remember the ‘red lines’ of Obama, nothing coming through on that. Subsequently, Mr. Trump’s contradictory statements about the removal of American forces,” he said.
In 2012, former President Barack Obama warned the Syrian government not to cross a red line by using or moving chemical or biological weapons. In 2013, Syrian President Bashar Assad killed over an estimated 1,000 citizens in Eastern Ghouta with Sarin gas.
Trump originally announced the full withdrawal of U.S. troops in Syria in December 2018. He directed the U.S. military to remove all remaining 2,200 American ground troops from Syria within 30 days. Trump, at the time, went on to tweet that IS had been defeated.
We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
US troops to Saudi Arabia
Also this week, the U.S. administration said it will send more forces into Saudi Arabia after attacks on its oil production facilities, which was blamed on Iran. This came despite Trump stating that he wants to reduce military involvement in the region.
Al-Faisal told CNBC that he wasn’t surprised that the U.S. would be engaging with the Saudi kingdom by sending troops, while also withdrawing forces away from its allies in Syria.
“Well, It’s always been about energy since hasn’t it. Since 1945.”
He went on to add: “The oil market binds the world together and what happens in Saudi Arabia does not stay in Saudi Arabia.”
“It has somehow an ability to affect other countries. So I am not surprised the U.S. would be interested in engaging with the kingdom on defending the oil industry. It is surprising that America would abandon her allies in Syria. That is something for Mr. Trump to decide.”
The U.S. president recently stated that the country had become such a large producer that it no longer needed oil from the Middle East, but added that it was still willing to back its allies.
Because we have done so well with Energy over the last few years (thank you, Mr. President!), we are a net Energy Exporter, & now the Number One Energy Producer in the World. We don’t need Middle Eastern Oil & Gas, & in fact have very few tankers there, but will help our Allies!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 16, 2019
A spokesperson for the White House wasn’t immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.