Alan Zendell, October 14, 2019
If you made a list of things Donald Trump has done right as President, appointing General James Mattis as Secretary of Defense would be at the top. But like most of the potentially right things Trump attempted, his own narcissism undid it. Instead of following Mattis’ advice, when he announced that he was going to pull American troops out of Syria last December, it was the final straw for Mattis, who resigned in protest.
The decision to withdraw from Syria was intended to be seen by Trump’s base as keeping a promise to leave Afghanistan. Yes, I know that makes no sense. Neither does withdrawing fewer than 1,000 Special Forces play as cutting unnecessary military expenses. If Trump were serious about that he would reduce the 50,000 troops still based in Japan. Is he expecting another Okinawa-type infantry invasion? Could be, since he used the Kurds’ failure to help us invade Normandy in 1944 to justify abandoning them to the murderous fury of the Turks.
Trump, who brags that he is a brilliant negotiator, has been playing chicken with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the issue of the Kurds since 2017. According to Axios, Trump and Erdoğan have been running bluffs against each other, and they were both wrong. Trump has virtually been daring Erdogan to follow through on his threat to cleanse northern Syria of the Kurds, who they consider a terrorist threat to Turkey. Trump and his White House staff (Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller?) never expected Erdogan to call their bluff.
This is a pattern that repeats whenever Trump confronts a foreign autocrat (Valdimir Putin, Xi Jin Ping, Kim Jong Un). He ignores his advisers, believing he knows more about negotiation and diplomacy than they do, then acts impulsively in secret, blindsiding all of them, and winds up stepping in you-know-what.
Last Sunday, when Trump phoned his new dictator/idol Erdoğan, and agreed to pull American troops back from the Syria-Turkey border to clear the way for a Turkish invasion, he thought he’d exacted a promise that Turkey would protect Kurdish civilians and maintain the stewardship of tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners and their families. But Trump was had by Erdoğan. His policy of gutting critical Departments like Justice and State of committed career employees who have served for decades independent of party affiliation is coming home to roost in spades.
And who is the recipient of Trump’s massive blunder? Not anyone we consider a friend or ally. Our erstwhile sworn enemy, murderous Syrian president Bashir Al Assad is the initial winner, as the Kurds, facing overwhelming odds and armament from Turkey had no choice but to ally themselves with Assad’s forces. But the primary beneficiary is Vladimir Putin, who silently licks his chops as he watches Trump destroy any vestige of trust that remains with our traditional allies. After turning our backs on the Kurds, who spilled their blood for us for years, why would anyone else trust us with their future security?
To makes things worse, Turkey clearly has no intention of keeping its promise to take over the incarceration of ISIS fighters captured by the Kurds. Their families have been released, and it’s only a matter of days or hours before thousands of foreign ISIS fighters are free to return home. When Trump was asked how he felt about that, he said it was no problem because they would be returning to Europe. Imagine what all of the Europeans who watch American news felt hearing that. Remember Paris and Madrid?
And lest you think this is deep state/fake news propaganda, here’s what Fox News had to say. Trump consulted with the Joint Chiefs prior to calling Erdoğan, and agreed to a set of talking points, chief of which was that Turkey stay north of the Syrian border. But Trump went off script, blindsiding everyone, and told Erdoğan that he would pull back American forces that had been serving as a buffer between Turkey and the Kurds.
As bad as that sounds, it doesn’t address the real danger. We have no control over the actions of the Turks, Syrians, Iranians, and Russians, all of whom have large stakes in the region, and there could be huge consequences for Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Europe if Erdoğan’s adventurism erupts into a wider war.
And there’s a more serious question. With Erdoğan now buying weapons from Russia, if we can’t trust Turkey to honor its promise to preserve human rights and security in Syria, how can we trust them to fulfill their commitment to NATO? As awful as Trump is as a human being, his arrogance and incompetence in foreign affairs could have disastrous ramifications for the entire world.