WASHINGTON – Retired Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and NSA, told PJM that President Trump should not withdraw troops from Syria because the “stabilization phase” is not complete.
Following Trump’s remarks at a rally last week that he wanted to pull out “very soon,” the White House said this week that the administration would “consult with our allies and friends regarding future plans” with an eye toward imminent withdrawal.
“Frankly, when we do an operation, when we plan, when we conduct, we plan for four phases: deploy, shape the battlefield, fight – and that’s the part most people call war – and the last phase, phase four, is the stabilization phase, all right. We are right now winding up phase three – that, unfortunately, seems to be President Trump’s definition of a war,” Hayden said after his discussion with British professor and author A.C. Grayling organized by the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.
“[Trump] said we’re done and we are coming home, whereas anybody who does this for a living, [James] Mattis, [Joseph] Dunford, [Joseph] Votel, know we are not done,” he added. “We’ve got another whole phase which, in essence, is changing the facts on the ground so we don’t have to go do this again, and I fear we are going to leave under an understanding that the physical destruction was all that was required.”
When asked if he thinks the U.S. has enough troops in Syria at the moment, Hayden replied, “We’re able to affect circumstances there with a very limited footprint so I’m not calling for – I don’t know that we need more.”
Trump announced this week that he would be sending National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border after his plans for a border wall were not funded in the omnibus spending bill. Hayden was asked if he agreed with that decision.
“So President Bush did it. President Obama did it, all right? I’m not sure what President Trump’s intent is and I will say this is the feel of security theater, responding to a hyped threat of several hundred Central Americans making their way across Mexico being described as some apocalyptic danger to the United States and then describing our current border security as some dystopian universe and so you’ve build the case for desperate times require desperate measures – and neither of those are true,” Hayden said.
Trump has been critical of the intelligence community’s conduct during the Obama administration as well as the FBI’s handling of the Russia investigation, often referring to the special counsel’s probe as a “witch hunt.” Hayden was asked to describe what he has been hearing from his contacts in the intelligence community in response to Trump’s criticism.
“So those [attacks] will have long-term effects and if even if they are not directly on intelligence, if they are on the attorney general, the head of the FBI, the deputy attorney general, if they are on the former FBI director, if they are on the former deputy director – I mean, those folks are all familiar faces within the IC and you’ve got a president who seems to base all of his relationships with the agencies of his own government on some definition of extreme personal loyalty to him,” Hayden replied. “That’s a difficult proposition for intelligence. It’s designed not to be loyal to him but to simply tell him things he may not want to hear.”
Trump’s supporters often say that the president’s criticism has been directed at senior officials and maintain that he still supports lower-level intelligence and law enforcement officers serving the country.
In February, Donald Trump Jr. wrote on Twitter, “Criticizing 5 lawyer bureaucrats at the top of the FBI is not attacking the boots on the ground. When you support law enforcement as we do you would get it. I know many LEOs, they all get it and feel the same way and express it often. We support the doers… Boots Not Suits!”
In response to Trump Jr.’s argument, Hayden said, “Andrew McCabe is a career FBI officer. Jim Clapper is a career intelligence officer. John Brennan is a career intelligence officer. They are products of the communities they both led and represent.”