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Zakaria: Syria decision feels like Bush moment

CNN's Fareed Zakaria says President Trump's decision to remove troops from Syria feels worse than the moment former President George W. Bush announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq.

Posted: Dec 21, 2018 9:40 AM
Updated: Dec 21, 2018 9:50 AM

President Donald Trump's decision to pull the US out of Syria ends a policy whose popularity with the American public had wavered, though Americans have consistently said ISIS -- which Trump claimed was defeated in the country -- remains a threat.

In April, 39% of American voters said Trump had been handling Syria well while 49% disapproved, according to a Fox News poll, with 16% believing he'd been too tough and 31% not tough enough. By party, a big majority of his Republican base approved (71%) compared to only 34% of independents and 14% of Democrats. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans said he'd been about right on handling Syria and a quarter thought he hadn't been tough enough. A plurality of Democrats (37%) agreed that Trump should be tougher.

In the same Fox News poll, 3-in-5approved of the US using military airstrikes -- which are likely to cease due to the withdrawal -- to punish Syria for using chemical weapons. Even 45% of Democrats agreed with the practice (45% disagreed). Republicans were in total support (83%).

The support for the President's handling of Syria had drooped from April 2017, when a Fox poll taken around the time of a Trump-ordered strike on the Assad regime in response to a chemical weapons attack found 48% approved of his Syria policy.

In announcing the US withdrawal from Syria on Wednesday, Trump also declared ISIS to be defeated in the country, a statement at odds with the view of many analysts, administration officials and experts. The terror group also operates in Iraq, where the US continues to maintain forces.

The view of the US military effort against ISIS has improved since Trump took office. In October 2017, 55% told Pew Research they thought the effort was going very or fairly well, the highest number to say so since Pew began tracking the question in October 2014. In October 2016, only 31% thought it was going well.

Americans have consistently stated a belief that the terror group threatens the US.

In a CNN poll from May, 59% said that ISIS still represents a very serious threat to the US. Even though that number is a huge majority, it's the lowest number who said that ISIS is a very serious threat to the US since CNN started tracking the question in April 2015. The highest was in May 2016 after President Barack Obama deployed additional special operation forces to fight ISIS in Syria.

In a CNN poll taken in January, less than half (46%) of respondents said they thought it was likely Trump would defeat ISIS during his tenure as president, while half said they thought it was unlikely.

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