Within hours, the bombing sparked bipartisan appeals from lawmakers who urged the President to stay the course in Syria until the terrorist group is definitively defeated. But analysts said the tragedy could just as easily deepen Trump's instincts to walk away from a country he said was all about sand and death.
"My gut tells me that this will reinforce Donald Trump's instincts about withdrawing," said Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute. "Trump has said Syria is all about sand and death, we've just experienced more death, so all the more reason to leave … but it also fuels the argument made by his detractors that this proves ISIS has not been defeated, that our local allies on the ground are facing serious threats that we can assist them in defending against. "
"I think it will fuel the ongoing argument about what withdrawal means," Lister said, adding, "I do not think it will stop the withdrawal. "
Trump's unexpected December 19 declaration that he would pull troops led to the resignation of former Defense Secretary James Mattis and concern within the administration and on Capitol Hill that the decision amounted to a huge win for Iran, undermined US influence in the region and exposed the US 'Kurdish allies to a possible attack from Turkey.
In the weeks since, administration officials from the national security adviser John Bolton to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have begun adding conditions that could indefinitely delay troop departure and have backed away from discussing timelines. Pence said the troops would come home, declaring that despite the deadly attack "we have crushed the ISIS caliphate and devastated its capabilities."
"As we begin to bring our troops home, the American people can be assured, for the sake of our soldiers, their families and our nation, we will never allow the remnants of ISIS to re-establish their evil and murderous caliphate – not now, not ever, "Pence said, without explaining how that would happen.
A source familiar to the administration's thinking on Syria said, "I think it probably makes a withdrawal or drawdown of troops more difficult. "
" It highlights the complexity of the situation, "the source said.
"Trump does not want to keep forces in what he calls these 'endless wars,' like Obama, and he also wants to reduce the exposure of American forces, but the problem is how you do that when ISIS is still there , "the source said.
Wednesday afternoon, the White House hosted a previously scheduled meeting on Syria, inviting lawmakers like Republican Sen. Jodi Ernst of Iowa, who had publicly urged the President to reconsider the withdrawal, and others like Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who applauded the move. In a statement after leaving the White House, Paul signaled that Trump did not change his mind.
"I have never been prouder of President Donald Trump," Paul said. "In today's meeting, he stood up for a strong America and steadfastly opposed foreign wars." Putting America first means declaring victory in Afghanistan and Syria.
But other lawmakers issued warnings.
The Republican Republican Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas said in a statement that the assault is a reminder that ISIS still has the capacity to carry out attacks, and strongly urge the President to forcefully respond and ensure that we do not withdraw our troops until ISIS is completely destroyed.
One conservative group, Defense Priorities, issued a call to the President to make good on his pledge to leave. "This tragic loss of life should remind everyone of the serious risks involved when keeping US troops in Syria," retired Lt. Col. Daniel Davis said in a statement put out by the group. "This is precisely why the president was right to order the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of US troops last month."
At the White House, two officials said on Wednesday that the president continues to believe it is time for US troops to return home.
Despite Trump's December declaration that troops would come home "now," the staff have not started leaving the country . CNN reported last week that the first US military ground equipment, including some cargo, had been withdrawn from Syria