U.S. investigative journalist Bob Woodward’s new book “Fear: Trump in White House”, a White House tell-all, amidst other shocking revelations, enlightens its readers about the Trump administration’s negotiation with Saudi Arabia regarding funding for a CIA operation in Syria.
The author wrote in the book, “General Kelly informed the president that his two top foreign policy advisers, McMaster and Tillerson, were in a ferocious fight over who would negotiate with Saudi Arabia to get $4 billion. The money was in part to fund operations in Syria, including a top-secret CIA project for the Syrian rebels code-named TEAK.”
The conversation between General John Kelly, Trump’s chief-of-staff since July 31, 2017, and the U.S. President took place on Jan 19, 2018, as per the book. During the same conversation, Trump got furious when H.R. McMaster, the ex-national security advisor, tried to intervene in the deal with Saudi Arabia and negotiate it himself.
“‘Damn H.R.,’ Trump said. ‘This pointy-head academic has no sense of business or how to negotiate.’”
According to the chief-of-staff, McMaster was not the guy for the job and had not been very successful with the Saudis. Trump agreed that Rex Tillerson, the ex-secretary of state was a suitable person to cut deals with the Saudis as he has been doing with the Saudi royal family for years as CEO of Exxon.
“Tillerson also knew that the Saudis could not be trusted and for Trump, not trusting the people on the other side of the table was a first principle of haggling, of beating them down to get a better bargain. You had to be tough and say no to get to yes,” says the current New York Times best-seller.
If one traces the events prior to and over the months since the January 2018 meeting between Kelly and Trump, the revelations by the journalist do not seem far-fetched despite the president’s attempts to discredit the claims.
Prior to the meeting with Kelly, as per a report by the Washington Post, Trump, in December, over a phone call, asked King Salman to contribute the exact same amount mentioned by Woodward i.e., US$4 billion to reconstruction and stabilization efforts in parts of Syria which are not held by government forces. The report confirms that U.S. finalized the deal with Saudi Arabia.
In March, three months after the events took place in Woodward’s book, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman traveled to the U.S. to hold a meeting with various U.S. officials and the president himself to talk about money.
Within four months of the said meeting, the U.S. announced fiscal withdrawal from Syria and at the same time, Saudi Arabia pledged money to "reconstruct" the part of Syria that the U.S. and its allies control.
In August, Donald Trump announced that the U.S. is in the final stages of the Syrian War even though it withdrew US$230 million that was meant to stabilize and rebuild the northeastern region of Syria.
While the U.S., citing a reduction of foreign aid, withdrew financial support from Syria, Saudi Arabia on the other hand, pledged US$100 million for the same reason receiving appreciation from the former.
“This significant contribution is critical to stabilization and early recovery efforts and comes at an important time in the campaign,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement at the time.
“Stabilization and early recovery programing is critical to ensure ISIS cannot reemerge and use Syria as a base to threaten the people of the region or plot attacks against the international community,” the statement said referring to the Islamic State group.
Even though the Trump administration cut funds, it did not take U.S. soldiers out of Syria, raising a question of whether it really wants to end its involvement in the Syrian civil war. The increasing conflict in Idlib, one of the last strongholds of anti-government forces in Syria over the past week keeps the question of U.S. disengagement open and looming.