As the Turkish military attacked our Kurdish allies in the fight against ISIS, yesterday the president attempted to answer questions from the press about his motives in abandoning the Kurds to their fate. Seeing the results of his whimsical and unilateral decision, made in the dark of a Sunday night, to acquiesce to Turkish demands to allow them to invade Kurdish territory, the president went on the defensive.
Among other things he was asked was if he had any qualms about giving Turkey a green light to attack the Kurds, knowing that it would be a devastating attack with the potential for a huge loss of life. His response? Well, all I can say is that it is baffling in its irrelevance and display of total ignorance. In trying to explain that we do not really owe the Kurds for helping us to fight ISIS, he was dismissive of the alliance.
“Now the Kurds are fighting for their land. They didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy, for example.” — Donald J. Trump
It gets better. When asked if our betrayal of our ally would have an impact on our other alliances, he said, “No it won’t. Alliances are very easy.” He then went on to disparage our NATO allies.
And better still. When asked if he was concerned that the ISIS prisoners, about 16,000 strong, might escape, reconstitute, and once again become a security threat to the U.S. he said that he was not at all concerned. Or in his words,
“Well they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go. They want to go back to their homes. But Europe didn’t want them for months. They could have had trials, they could have done whatever they wanted, but as usual, it’s not reciprocal.” — Donald J. Trump
Life and national security are hard. But it is a lot harder when you are ignorant. People die.
“A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran and the Assad regime (Syria).” Senator Mitch McConnell (Tr-KY)
“ISIS is not defeated. This is the biggest lie being told by this (Trump) administration.” Senator Lindsey Graham (Tr-SC)
In case you missed it between all of the president’s Tweets, including calling for the impeachment of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and of Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) for “treason” (for the record, Senators and Representatives cannot be impeached), Mr. Trump impulsively called for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Syria.
The reactions above represent the level of consternation this decision created in Congress and the national security community.
It is worth taking a few minutes to consider the difference between what this is, and what this means. They are not always the same thing. Knowing the players makes a difference. What it is is a military re-deployment. What it means is a serious blow to our national security and a possible massacre in the making.
For a few years now, roughly 1,000 U.S. uniformed personnel, mostly Special Operations Forces (SOF) have been in northern Syria working with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to defeat ISIS. The U.S. SOF act primarily as advisers and trained and equipped the SDF to be a very effective light infantry unit. The SOF also coordinated U.S. artillery and air strikes to support the Kurds in the fight against ISIS.
The SDF is a multi-ethnic force of about 60,000 people that includes Arabs, Christians, Assyrians and Kurds, the largest group of fighters in the SDF. Roughly 13,000 of them gave their lives in this effort. They control a large section of Syria in the north along the Turkish border. They also run and guard a camp of ISIS prisoners and their families that numbers about 16,000 battle-hardened fanatics.
The Kurds are from an area in the Middle East that straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. They have pushed for an autonomous state since the early part of the 20th century. None of the countries around them want them to have that state, especially Turkey. Indeed, Turkey considers the Kurds, specifically a group called the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK, a terrorist organization. They want them gone. As a result, the Turks intend to move into the Kurdish occupied areas of Syria in order to displace — read militarily defeat — the Kurds and to settle a million Syrian refugees in the area in order to close it to the Kurds.
Since the Turks consider the Kurds to be terrorists, and the Turkish military has heavy weapons and tanks and high tech arms to go against Kurdish rifles, machine guns and low tech weapons, without U.S. air support, the possibility of a massacre is high.
The Turks see Mr. Trump’s decision as a “green light” to invade and destroy the Kurds.
The president decided to abandon the Kurds to their fate late on Sunday night following a phone call from Turkish President Recep Erdogan. Mr. Trump consulted with no national security advisers — civilian or military — before announcing that we would withdraw. Everyone was taken by surprise including the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), militarily responsible for Syria, that announced a new security plan to monitor the area between the Kurds and Turks to ensure the security of all involved. Within 24 hours of the announcement of the new plan, the U.S. was gone from the border.
The Russians, Syrians and Iranians couldn’t be happier to see us bug out.
Remember that the president announced a similar move late last year which caused Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to resign his post. The president then back-tracked on pulling U.S. forces out. This time, Mr. Erdogan’s arguments were more persuasive, I suppose, and Mr. Trump did not consult with anyone so that he could not be talked out of it. All very whimsical with serious consequences.
In a nutshell, here is what this means.
- We abandoned an ally that did most of the fighting and dying to protect our national interests. It will be nearly impossible for the U.S. to convince any group or country around the world that we will have their back in the future when we need their help to protect our own people and interests.
- A foreign leader dictated to our president what actions to take that were counter to our national interests. (Again?)
- The president took unilateral action without consulting any adviser knowledgeable of the situation or otherwise able to explain the dire consequences of this action to our friends and allies the Kurds. The point will be driven home when pictures and video emerge of the loss of Kurdish men, women and children (all are fighters in the SDF).
- The president assured our country that the Turks will not do anything drastic in a Tweet (of course — foreign policy is now conducted almost exclusively by Tweets). I, for one, am not assured. Here is the essence of the rambling Tweet. “if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).” For a second there I thought maybe the Wizard of Oz was president. But then I realized I think he actually considers himself to be above the rest of us — in a Biblical sense. Are you assured? And what does destroy and obliterate Turkey mean?
- The Kurds stated that they will no longer guarantee the integrity of the prison camp containing the 16,000 battle-hardened ISIS fighters and families. The likelihood of a massive prison break is high. Those ISIS fighters will not go quietly into the night and the result is an immediately reconstituted force that will rejoin other ISIS fighters still scattered throughout the region. Many are former residents of European and other countries outside the Middle East, thus raising the probability of terrorist attacks around the world.
- Like every other decision Mr. Trump seems to make, this one was based on money. Perhaps because he has a Trump Towers in Istanbul? He stated that it would save the taxpayers money. One should ask how expensive 1,000 troops in the field leveraging a a non-U.S. fighting force of 60,000 people might be compared to U.S. and other nations’ lives lost when ISIS becomes a viable fighting force again?
The bottom line is that this decision is a major blow to our national security. It was made without any understanding of the consequences. It undermines our relationship with every ally we have now and might wish to have in the future. It allows for the reconstitution of ISIS. It shows that our national policy making apparatus is broken. It shows that the president believes himself when he says that Article II of the Constitution allows him “to do whatever I want.” It shows that he believes himself when he says “I alone can fix it.” It shows that he believes himself when he says it’s easy to work for him because “I make all the decisions. They don’t have to work.” It shows he believes himself when he says “I know more about ISIS than the generals do.” It shows that he believes himself when he says that he is a “stable genius” with “great and unmatched wisdom.”
It also shows just how dangerous this man is as president.