Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton are traveling this week to reassure allies and ensure that Turkey, who would like nothing better than to have American forces out of the way so they can finish their Kurdish problem once and for all, sticks to the plan. That plan apparently still includes the Kurds.

fast-changing foreign policy

To recap, for those just coming out of an eggnog-induced holiday haze, shortly before Christmas, the White House announced that ISIS had been defeated, and he was ordering the withdrawal of the 2,000 American troops on the ground. “It’s time to come back. They’re getting ready. You’re going to see them soon… They’re all coming back, and they’re coming home now,” he said in an online video.

Then Sunday, Bolton appeared at a press conference in Israel alongside Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and seemed to change the message again. Bolton said he and the prime minister were “going to be discussing the president’s decision to withdraw, but to do so from northeast Syria in a way that makes sure ISIS is not able to revive itself and become a threat again, and to make sure that the defense of Israel and our other friends in the region is absolutely assured, and to take care of those who have fought with us against ISIS and other terrorist groups.”

That’s a lot of “ands.”

Trying to make it all fit together

By Monday evening, things were a little clearer, but to my mind, still muddled. Writing in National Review, Bolton’s chief of staff Fred Fleitz said, “it is well known in Washington that over the past two weeks, President Trump has been adjusting his plan to withdraw American troops from Syria in response to feedback from experts, members of Congress, and foreign leaders.” And on CNBC, Pompeo called these adjustments “a change in tactics.”

“We’re there to continue to do the things that need to be done to protect the American people and to ensure Middle East stability,” he told correspondent Wilfred Frost. “There’s been a lot of noise about this withdrawal from Syria, and we want to make sure [our allies] understand completely what that means,” he continued.

“There’s no change in our commitment to the defeat of the caliphate or of ISIS globally” Pompeo stated. “There’s a change in tactics; we’re going to withdraw our 2,000 soldiers from Syria. But the mission—the purpose—for which we have been involved for the 24 months of this administration remains in full.”

Good policy—policy that is executable—is the result of hard staff work. Normally, people who draw up these plans for a living do the “nug work” in secret, then present the president with a range of options drawn from the possible. The president chooses the one that most closely meets his intent, and the policy gets announced. Foreign policy announcements today, however, seem to be pre-dating the policy decisions that accompany them.

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Tom McCuin is a strategic communication consultant and retired Army Reserve Civil Affairs and Public Affairs officer whose career includes serving with the Malaysian Battle Group in Bosnia, two tours in Afghanistan, and three years in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs in the Pentagon. When he’s not devouring political news, he enjoys sailboat racing and umpiring Little League games (except the ones his son plays in) in Alexandria, Va. Follow him on Twitter at @tommccuin