"Present at the Catastrophe: Standing By as Turks Cleanse Kurds in Northern Syria," US Envoy Criticizes Trump Administration

Memo reviewed by Michelle Barton, HKS MC/MPA

Russian and Turkish military vehicles patrolling in NE Syria

This foreign policy memo  (found in the New York Times article by Eric Schmitt, 11/7/19) is a clear and concise piece of writing in response to a mammoth decision in U.S. foreign policy. It was written to experts at the Department of State, and was unclassified. The memo deals with a catastrophic, unilateral decision to withdraw by President Trump, made in consultation with no area experts, and has since caused rapid deterioration on the ground in Syria. The author, Ambassador William Roebuck, has been in and out of Syria for the last two years.

Although a complicated problem to understand, Ambassador Roebuck’s memo is straightforward. The problem is clearly stated upfront, and explained articulately in the sentences that follow. Furthermore, the Ambassador does an excellent job of carefully providing an insightful critique of the decision to withdraw, not the administration—a delicate line to toe. He follows up with a tight policy analysis, and options that could be taken. He uses a personal narrative to persuade the reader of his expertise on the issue. As a result, the tone of the memo is intellectual, informative, experienced, and to the point. While the memo is long, it covers all the points it needs to quickly without using excessive words.

Of note, this memo reads like a sort of dissenting memo, as it is in direct contradiction with a decision of the President. Dissent memos are most successfully written by someone with as much credible, on the ground experience as Ambassador Roebuck.


Taxonomy: Authority, Bottom Line Upfront (BLUF), U.S. Foreign Policy