There was a moment in winter 2018 when President Trump issued a sudden and surprising order to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria. The move so angered the Pentagon brass that Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned. Still others, with far less integrity than Mattis, stayed behind and, now we learn, worked to undermine the decision of the duly elected president of the United States.
This stunning revelation is contained in a story at Defense One, which reported Thursday that the diplomat Trump named as a special envoy overseeing the Syrian conflict, worked behind the scenes to undermine orders and “routinely misled senior leaders about troop levels in Syria.”
Eventually, Trump allowed about 200 troops to remain in Syria, but we learn now that his point man in Syria lied to his superiors, likely including Trump, about that as well. It may be yet another data point which led the president to clean house at the Pentagon in the past few days, including sacking Defense Secretary Mark Esper for what’s reported to be slow-rolling the removal of troops from Afghanistan.
Jim Jeffrey, who in 2016 signed the notorious Never Trump letter accusing Trump of being a “danger to America,” told Defense One that he eventually came to believe Trump’s dealings in the Middle East were terrific but admitted his team “misled” their superiors by “playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there.”
[E]ven as he praises the president’s support of what he describes as a successful “realpolitik” approach to the region, he acknowledges that his team routinely misled senior leaders about troop levels in Syria.
“We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there,” Jeffrey said in an interview. The actual number of troops in northeast Syria is “a lot more than” the roughly two hundred troops Trump initially agreed to leave there in 2019.
You may be among the many who disagreed with President Trump on reducing or removing the U.S. footprint in Syria, but who elected the suits and uniforms at the State Department and Pentagon again? Is this a soft coup of sorts by Deep-Staters, taking matters into their own hands and cutting the president out of his own job as commander-in-chief? Could be.
Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams says Jeffrey admits to the subterfuge but came away with a healthy respect for the man he once thought of as “a danger.”
As he exits public service again, Jeffrey is hardly derisive of the divisive president.
The career ambassador’s 2018 decision to serve in the Trump administration despite his political opposition to the president — and to champion his policies on the way out the door — is on-brand for an official described by colleagues as the consummate apolitical public servant. Jeffrey offers no polemics on the president’s character, even as he says he stands by his decision to sign the 2016 open letter that said Trump was “erratic” and “acts impetuously.”
“I know what I did in 2016, I do not disagree with that,” said Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq. “I was following closely the situation with Iran, Iraq and Syria, and I was appalled that we didn’t have a more coherent policy. This wasn’t a political decision.”
Max Blumenthal wondered after this latest act that anyone could possibly question the existence of the “Deep State.”
Outgoing US Syria envoy Jim Jeffrey (of neocon WINEP) says, "We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there" in northeastern Syria.
But remember, there is no deep state committed to permanent war. https://t.co/mLGeVL2a80
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) November 13, 2020
After it was pointed out to the now-former diplomat that he’d admitted to treachery in the Defense One interview, he weasel-worded a response to Vox News.
“‘There was never an agreed official number.’ Trump ‘talked of a few hundred … there was no violation of instructions or orders [sic] just a general effort to keep under 1,000.”
Asked Amb. Jeffrey about his comments to @KatieBoWill. He told me:
“There was never an agreed official number.” Trump “talked of a few hundred…there was no violation of instructions or orders just a general effort to keep under 1,000.” https://t.co/oenaGl9VCQ
— Alex Ward (@AlexWardVox) November 13, 2020
Defense One’s Williams said in a series of tweets after publication that she “left a lot about the interview” “on the cutting room floor,” including Jeffrey’s admiration for Trump’s inquisitiveness and smarts.
He praises POTUS for asking “intelligent Qs” about our role in Syria, offering necessary support & carrying out a successful “realpolitik” strategy in the region.
He rolls his eyes at the notion our alliances are too fragile to withstand U.S. demands. Trump is popular with Middle East allies, he says, because he has stopped “nagging” them. “They can do pretty much what they want, but they’re going to have to step up and do things.”
With nearly four years of everyone from the Democrats to their flacks in the FBI, CIA, news media, and Silicon Valley trying to undermine Trump – the duly elected president of the United States – it’s hard to be shocked anymore, but this is a stunner.
Notwithstanding his high praise for Trump, Jeffrey might want to cast about for an attorney after admitting he lied to do what he and his “team” wanted and not what President Trump ordered.
He’s lucky he got out with his ass in one piece. Perhaps he has a future place in political purgatory. Maybe General Michael Flynn would be willing to make room for him.
Victoria Taft is the host of “The Adult in the Room Podcast With Victoria Taft” where you can hear her series on “Antifa Versus Mike Strickland.” Find it at your favorite podcast outlets. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Parler @VictoriaTaft