President Donald Trump’s Thursday remarks about an imminent withdrawal of US troops has drawn a great deal of attention in the Iranian press. While some state-run outlets and those affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards welcome Trump’s announcement as a victory for Iran and its regional proxies, others remain skeptical about whether Washington will actually press ahead with such a plan.
Hassan Hanizadeh, an Iranian analyst of Arab affairs, told IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency that Trump’s announcement proves that Tehran and its allies have triumphed over Washington and its regional partners in Syria. “If American forces pull out of Syria as Donald Trump has promised, this will be considered Washington’s acknowledgement of its defeat and a great victory by the axis of resistance in this country,” he said in the interview with Tasnim. “America’s exit from Syria will lead to a gradual isolation of Saudi Arabia, France and England in the region,” he added.
Some outlets also said there were contradictions in the Trump administration’s policy in Syria and the broader region – pointing out that Washington has allocated funds for reconstruction in parts of Syria while Trump is talking about an abrupt exit from the country. The state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) also noted that American officials have made “contradictory statements” about the US policy vis-à-vis Syria.
Comment: Last Thursday, President Trump during a speech in Ohio said that American troops would withdraw from Syria “very soon” as the Islamic State is now defeated. "We're knocking the hell out of ISIS. We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon." He added: "Let the other people take care of it now."
The president’s remarks took many in Washington by surprise. Senator Lindsay Graham warned on Sunday that a precipitous withdrawal would undo the gains made against ISIS over the past three years. He called on Trump not to repeat the mistake of the Obama administration, which pulled out troops from Iraq in 2011. An immediate US withdrawal would also unnerve America’s allies in the region, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia, which want Washington to push back against Iran’s growing influence in Syria and the broader region.
Trump’s announcement, however, is welcomed in Tehran. With ISIS collapsing and the regime of Bashar al-Assad reestablishing its power over key population centers, Tehran and its regional proxies see the presence of American troops in Syria and Iraq as the biggest threat to their interests. But as the commentary in the Iranian media indicates, pundits in Tehran are still skeptical whether Trump will put the withdrawal plan into action. Many in Tehran also express the worry that Washington might strike a grand bargain with Moscow over Syria at the expense of Iranian interests.