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News Analysis: Trump's surprise visit to Iraq for multilayered objectives
Last Updated: 2018-12-29 11:20 | Xinhua
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U.S. President Donald Trump made use of his surprise visit to Iraq to achieve multi-layered objectives home and abroad, including asserting his influence over the military, gaining political capital and committing to defeat Islamic State (IS), observers said.

Trump's visit to Iraq on Wednesday was his first trips to U.S. troops deployed in a combat zone since he assumed the presidency in 2017.

It has been a long tradition for U.S. presidents to visit overseas troops during holidays. Trump's predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, all visited U.S. military troops in Iraq or Afghanistan several times during their presidencies.

Presidents need to visit the troops to show the soldiers that they are not forgotten, said Eliot Cohen, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Before the visit, Trump already drawn criticism for not paying a visit to U.S. troops stationed in combat zones, especially by using his "unbelievable busy schedule" as a pretext in a November interview.

Trump's Christmas visit to Iraq, to some extent, might help to alleviate those criticisms, observers said.

Given the president's recent decision to pull out U.S. forces in Syria despite broad objections from senior defense officials and military generals, this visit might also work to amend his relations with the Pentagon and the military.

The decision directly resulted in the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis, who is highly respected among the military, defense officials and lawmakers.

Shortly after, Trump picked Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan as the acting Pentagon chief, forcing Mattis to step down two months earlier than planned.

The president used his visit to assert his influence over the military at a moment of tremendous turmoil at the Pentagon, reports said.

The visit, amid a partial shutdown of U.S. federal government, might also serve Trump's interest as a diversionary tactic. It provided Trump "the opportunity to be photographed and filmed with members of the military, which can help politically," said an article of The Atlantic.

However, U.S. senior political analyst David Gergen tweeted that "it was a pleasant surprise that President Trump visited the troops in Iraq -- but one visit doesn't change the overall chaos of the last few weeks."

Trump's repeated claim of the territorial defeat of the IS and his decision to pull out U.S. troops from Syria also led to speculation about a possible adjustment of U.S. military presence in Iraq.

Trump's claim notwithstanding, the IS remains active along the banks of the Euphrates river near the Syria-Iraq border, and the number of IS members in Iraq and Syria is reportedly as high as 30,000.

A report issued by The International Crisis Group warned that a possible Kurdish and Turkish showdown followed by the abrupt U.S. withdrawal from Syria might allow the IS to make a resurgence.

During his stay in Iraq, Trump made it clear to friends and foes in the region that he had no plans to withdraw the some 5,200 U.S. soldiers from Iraq, a country he could use "to do something in Syria."

"We can use this as a base if we wanted to do something in Syria," Trump said. "If we see something happening with IS that we don't like, we can hit them so fast and so hard."

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