The Syrian Kurds fought alongside Americans and suffered 11,000 dead. American troops hailed their bravery. So what did Generalissimo Donald Trump do?
After a phone call with Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump ordered the withdrawal of 50–100 Special Forces advisors from Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria and 1,000 troops elsewhere in Syria. Turkey attacked the Kurds.
Our military is aghast.* They appreciate the Kurds’ efforts to help destroy ISIS’ “caliphate” and resist Syrian strongman Bashar al Assad. Even Republican congressional leaders called Trump on his horrendous abandonment of the Kurds.
A self-proclaimed “island of one,” Trump remains committed. “It’s not our border,” he said of the area dividing Turkey and Syria. As it happened, the presence of a few American troops held the Turks at bay. (A Turkish pause gave the Kurds five days to leave the border zone—or else.) To the south, American forces helped block Iran from supplying its Lebanese Hezbollah proxies, who seek to destroy Israel, which also isn’t on our border. Israel now knows that despite Trump’s rhetoric, U.S. support is limited.
Trump opposes “endless wars” in the Middle East. Who doesn’t? Yet the 1,000 troops he’s withdrawing from Syria will likely go to Kurdish Iraq. The Generalissimo is also sending additional forces to Saudi Arabia to bolster the Kingdom against Iran. Saudi Arabia, whose strongman Prince Muhammad bin Sultan ordered or permitted the killing and dismemberment of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi. The Kingdom, not on America’s border but awash in oil money the Kurds lack to pay for American weapons and troops.
Trump sees things in black and white. Life’s filled with grays. In 2002, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell repeated the famed “Pottery Barn theory”: You break it, you buy it. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Chaney thought otherwise.
In 2003, Bush sent Powell to the United Nations Security Council to make America’s case for war: Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11 and had nuclear weapons. Powell failed. He later called the experience “painful.” An understatement.
We invaded Iraq. Victory came with lightning speed. Remember “shock and awe”? Not peace. The Bush administration had no understanding of the Middle East, no plan for transforming Iraq into a stable nation, only an insistence that it become an American-style democracy. Sectarian and tribal fighting erupted. Americans died. Barack Obama withdrew our forces. The Islamic State arose. Obama sent troops back.
No, we never should have been involved in Iraq. Yes, we broke it, we bought it, we needed to fix it.
As to the current disaster, the risk to American forces in Syria was relatively minor. (I don’t make light of even a single American death.) The risk of fueling further Middle East instability? Yuge! Kurds are dying. Syrian refugees fleeing. ISIS prisoners escaping. Who’s filling the power vacuum? The Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Speyer (10/16) offers, “Vladimir Putin is now the indispensable strategic arbiter in Syria.”
Is America better off? It’s not far-fetched to imagine American forces returning to Syria in large numbers or, by staying away, permitting increasing bloodshed and heightened threats to our allies.
Wait. Strike the latter part of that sentence. Because Donald Trump has no shame, America has partners of convenience but no allies—to our shame.
*For an enlightening and depressing look at the military’s pre-Kurd views of Trump, read “What the Generals Think of Trump” by Mark Bowden in the November 2019 Atlantic. See also the 10/17 New York Times opinion piece by Rear Admiral William McRaven (Ret.), former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.
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