Trump cannot let Russia endanger American interests in Middle East

President TrumpDonald John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration MORE gave his second State of the Union and his third speech to a joint session of Congress last week. Throughout the address, Trump attempted to credit the strong economy and his work in the White House while dismissing what he called “ridiculous partisan investigations.” His decision to reference the special counsel investigation here is wrong and runs counter to the true purpose of the annual State of the Union address.

Trump implored Congress to end its oversight investigation into alleged collusion between his campaign and the Russian government. “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” he declared. But the investigation by Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE and his team into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the 2016 election must continue, and it is imperative that it operates without interruption because the American people deserve answers.

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Whether or not Trump himself had any direct contact with the Russian government, it is becoming clear that illegal activity was prevalent among members of the Trump campaign and in support of his candidacy. The indictment of his longtime adviser Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneRoger Stone shares, quickly deletes Instagram photo of federal judge on his case Mueller probe figures use fame to pay bills New filing suggests Mueller has evidence Stone communicated with WikiLeaks MORE last month marked over three dozen indictments in the investigation. These include indictments against his former campaign manager, his former personal lawyer, and some other high ranking campaign officials.

In no uncertain terms, Mueller has shown that in many ways, the Trump campaign did act illegally. The investigation is not a witch hunt. It is necessary to get to the truth of the 2016 election. In addition to his references to the investigation during the State of the Union address, Trump acquiescing to Russia in the Middle East is equally concerning.

In discussing his plans to withdraw American troops from the Middle East, Trump said, “It is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home.” Conflating the situation in Syria to that in Iraq of Afghanistan is misguided and plays in favor of Russia. Iraq and Afghanistan have had American troops for more than a decade, while the civil war in Syria has been a more recent development. The decision to withdraw troops was under the guise of saving American lives, but this is far from the case.

Notably, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisAllies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump Congress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support Trump nominates ambassador to Turkey MORE resigned over the decision to hastily withdraw from the conflict in Syria. In his resignation letter, Mattis wrote, “My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held.” Those malign actors he refers to are Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad.

It is deeply troublingly that the decision of Trump to withdraw troops from Syria goes against American interests in the region and is directly in line with the interests of Putin. To be clear, the United States and Russia are supporting different sides of the conflict, yet Trump has indicated he is confident Russia and Turkey can handle the remaining conflict in Syria.

There is no doubt that Trump is endangering American interests in the Middle East by withdrawing troops from Syria. This move is clearly favors Putin, and only further exemplifies why the special counsel investigation must continue. At a time when American democratic processes and national security face grave global threats, it is deeply troubling that the president would show deference to the very country that attacked us.

Trump must swiftly reengage Russia with a clear policy and strategy to counteract the appalling behavior of Putin in the last several years before not only the United States role as the world superpower is diminished further, but before the relevance and legitimacy of democratic elections and governments throughout the West become irreparably damaged.

Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. A longtime political consultant, he is also a Fox News contributor and the author of several books, including “Putin’s Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence.”