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Trump says he’s ending the US role in Syria. That’s not true.

The US isn’t withdrawing any troops from Syria, at least not yet.

Two US troops in sunglasses standing in the back of a pickup truck.
Armed men in uniform identified by Syrian Democratic forces as US special operations forces ride in the back of a pickup truck in the village of Fatisah in the northern Syrian province of Raqa on May 25, 2016.
Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump would have you believe that his decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria means Washington is ending its wars in the Middle East. But that’s not the case, and it’s looking more and more like he’s not sure about the military policy he leads.

On Wednesday morning, Trump did his best Michael Moore impression by ripping America’s involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts over the past two decades.

Trump is right to note that the US has lost thousands of Americans and spent trillions of dollars fighting these conflicts (though not quite as many trillions as Trump suggests) — not to mention the suffering endured by citizens of these war-torn nations.

But Trump is saying these things to justify his Syria decision on Sunday. It’d be one thing if he were bringing all 1,000 US troops in the country home, but he’s not. Instead, he’s moving just 50 US service members out of northern Syria to get of the way of a just-started Turkish invasion.

In other words, Trump isn’t ending America’s involvement in Middle East wars, he’s just changing the military’s posture. That’s how the Pentagon presented the change Tuesday, too.

“Turkey has chosen to act unilaterally. As a result we have moved the US forces in northern Syria out of the path of potential Turkish incursion to ensure their safety,” Jonathan Hoffman, the Defense Department’s chief spokesperson, said in a statement to reporters. “We have made no changes to our force presence in Syria at this time.”

This is a controversial decision, as many experts worry Turkey will slaughter Syrian Kurds — America’s main ally in the fight against ISIS — while allowing Russia and Iran to gain more a foothold in the country. Others, however, say America couldn’t perennially keep Turkey out of northern Syria, and so the small withdrawal was nothing more than a recognition of reality.

It’s worth noting that the US had 2,000 troops in Syria back in December and then Trump had the Pentagon cut that force in half in March. That’s definitely scaling back US involvement, but it’s still a far cry from ending any US role in the Middle East — and, again, it’s not what’s happening this week.

Okay, but maybe the US isn’t ending the war in Syria, but surely Trump’s stopping American involvement elsewhere, right? Nope.

A late September report from US Air Forces Central Command showed that the US launched the most airstrikes in Afghanistan over a single month in roughly a decade. American troops have ramped up airstrikes in Libya targeting ISIS fighters there. And the US continues its shadow war in Somalia to fend off terrorist groups there.

This is fits into a grander narrative of the Trump presidency: While he says he wants out of wars, he continues to fight them and in many cases escalates the conflicts. He may talk a big game when it comes to Middle East conflicts, but actions, as they say, speak louder than words.

Listen to Today, Explained

Turkey is sending troops and tanks to its border with Syria hours after President Trump announced he would be removing US forces from the nation. Syrian Kurds feel betrayed and ISIS is watching.

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