Around a week ago, Turkey marched into Syria. Their mission is to drive back the Kurdish YPG militia. The YPG is backed by the United States because they are liberals fighting both the Al-Assad government and ISIS. Indeed, they function as one of the main ground forces fighting ISIS in the region. Ankara’s attack placed America and Turkey against each other. Trump was forced to stand or fold and the stakes were high. In the critical moment, the president’s resolve failed. He ordered American forces out of the region just before the attack.
The conservatives unleashed a cacophony of criticism immediately. Seemingly everyone on the right responded in unison. Their condemnations took no prisoners.
“I don’t believe it is a good idea to outsource the fight against ISIS to Russia, Iran, and Turkey. They don’t have America’s best interests at heart.“–Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
“I feel very bad for the Americans and allies who have sacrificed to destroy the ISIS Caliphate because this decision virtually reassures the reemergence of ISIS. So sad. So dangerous. President Trump may be tired of fighting radical Islam. They are NOT tired of fighting us.”–Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
“We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake. #TurkeyIsNotOurFriend”–Nikki Haley (former US ambassador to the UN)
“If reports about US retreat in #Syria are accurate, the Trump administration has made a grave mistake that will have implications far beyond Syria.”-Marco Rubio(R-FL)
“This President’s decision to abandon our Kurdish allies in Northern Syria is ultimately a victory for Assad, Russia, Iran, and ISIS. The Administration must immediately reconsider withdrawing the few remaining U.S. troops who are playing a vital peacekeeping role.”–Mitt Romney (R-UT)
The quixotic Kentucky senator Rand Paul was one of the few who came to Trump’s defense. Predictably, his statement had nothing to do with the nuances of foreign policy and the need for compromise in such. Senator Paul contented himself with platitudes about “endless wars” and proceeded to not offer a plan for keeping ISIS from resurging.
“I stand with @realDonaldTrump today as he once again fulfills his promises to stop our endless wars and have a true America First foreign policy.”–Rand Paul(R-KY)
Conservatives and leftists in the House of Representatives actually united to oppose Trump’s Syria pull out fiasco by means of a non-binding resolution of condemnation. The resolution didn’t pass by a hair line margin either, it was quite the opposite. The chamber voted 354-60 in favor of it. The Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who is a New York Democrat said “What kind of message does this send to the world? How can America be trusted to keep its word when we betray one of our close partners?” When something can draw the scorn of leftists and conservatives alike to the extent that the House passes a resolution on it, it can safely said that it deserves condemnation.
Trump seemed to develop a multiple personality disorder in the aftermath of the invasion; He would say one thing and then do something different. To his credit, the action taken after his grave mistake of pulling troops from the Syrian border region is tolerable. Responding to Turkey’s incursion into Kurdish territory Trump hit back with economics. A proposed $100 billion bilateral trade deal was shelved. Steel tariffs went up. The Treasury was empowered to sanction specific Turkish officials.
That is all well and good but it is not enough. America’s European allies have taken the initiative in opposing Turkey. Germany and France have both halted their arms shipments to the country. Talk is brewing the European Union corridors of power of a complete arms embargo on the aggressing power. Beyond this, the French say that Turkey’s very membership in NATO is in question. Economic measures are just not enough. The European powers recognize this and in their seriousness to stand against Erdogan have acted on it. If Trump was serious, he would stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies.
Not only did he not do this, his rhetoric told a different story than his actions did. Much in the vein of Rand Paul’s cookie cutter criticism, Trump took to twitter and wrote,
“I am the only person who can fight for the safety of our troops & bring them home from the ridiculous & costly Endless Wars, and be scorned. Democrats always liked that position, until I took it. Democrats always liked Walls, until I built them. Do you see what’s happening here?”–President Donald Trump
In the midst of a crisis, he still managed to make it about the only person he seems to care about, him. Trump’s fixation on Trump is not what is at issue here though. What he did was frame the entire Syria situation through the lens of “bringing the troops home” and in doing so committed a major oversimplification. Whenever the United States leaves a country lacking in development such as Syria, it creates a power vacuum that allows one unsavory element or another to take power. In the end the result is worse than it was when it started. That line of thought can fairly justify not intervening in the first place but that is not relevant here. America is already there and if its forces leave, there will be a power vacuum. How to pull out of this sort of situation has baffled military and civilian officials alike for decades but one clear principle of it is to not pull out in the middle of large scale war (and there are currently multiple wars raging in Syria). One can argue how much water firemen should expend on a burning building to put it out and how much to soak it down afterwards so it doesn’t start up again but who will argue that the firemen should leave while half the building is still aflame? That is exactly the situation Trump has precipitated with his pull out and yet he defends it with his absurd platitudes.
Trump’s bumbling buffoonery only continued as the days and the invasion wore on. In another bid to defend the retreat, he expressed willingness to concede US influence to our enemies. Again on twitter, he wrote,
After defeating 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, I largely moved our troops out of Syria. Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land. I said to my Generals, why should we be fighting for Syria….
….and Assad to protect the land of our enemy? Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte. I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!–President Donald Trump
Those two tweets have a lot to unpack. What stands out the most is that he admitted he would abandon US influence in the Middle East and cede it to Russia, China or judging by his reference to the long dead French emperor (who, unlike Trump, was a master of strategy) quite literally anyone else who wants to show up. No matter what way one looks at it, it doesn’t make sense for any country to voluntarily shrink its sphere of influence. But for some reason, the president is oblivious to this. Aside from this, he forgets that the Kurds are the best bet Syria has for at least part of it to become a free, liberal state. The only democracy in the region is Israel and just one other small state with a like political persuasion would aid America’s regional position. Not to mention that millions of more people would live free. Not to mention that the Kurds have fought valiantly against ISIS. Just how valiantly did they fight? They only fought hard enough to lose 11,000 troops killed in action (this is a significant amount).
If only Trump could content himself with snubbing the Kurds and leaving them to die! He did not have the decency to even that. Instead he openly maligned them a few days later! The president said of the Kurds they are “not angels” which is a slap in the face considering they were our closest ally in the fight against the ISIS barbarians who truly, were no angels. The Guardian summed up his following comments nicely, “At one point the US president declared the Kurdish insurgents in Turkey (the PKK), strongly linked to Kurdish forces in Syria, ‘were more of a terrorist threat than ISIS.’ His remarks closely mirrored Ankara’s talking points but were starkly at odds with US intelligence and defense assessments which identify ISIS as a direct threat to US security” Even though Turkey invaded Syria, the Europeans are discussing removing the country from NATO and they are currently fighting a critical US ally, Trump expressed zero concern for the safety of US nuclear weapons in Turkey. If Erdogan has shown he cannot be trusted to not invade his neighbors, how far can he be trusted with some of the most powerful weapons ever designed within his borders?
What this all comes down to is that Turkey is fighting a US ally and the president is standing by and letting it happen. He has done a few things to punish Turkey but the real punishment is being doled out by the Europeans. He has not expressed any desire to curb Turkey’s ambitions by means of exclusion from the NATO alliance or given serious talk to a full arms embargo. If his actions painted him as against the attack, his words painted him as indifferent to it and supportive of conceding US influence to the Russians and the Chinese. This retreat and his subsequent enabling words will be remembered as the great betrayal of the Trump presidency if nothing changes.
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