President Trump had a private phone call with Turkish dictator Erdogan that for the second time (that we know) led directly to a dramatic change in our Syria policy. Last time, Secretary Mattis resigned and Trump was forced to delay the change, but not now. Trump charged in grossly unprepared and botched another major national security issue. He not only failed to coordinate this major change with our friends and allies in the region, including allies with forces on the ground such as the UK, he unjustifiably and completely ignored his own State Department and Department of Defense; both agencies should have been integral. They did not even know until after the fact! A Turkish dictator exercised more control over Trump policy than his own administration officials. Trump has no military experience, training, or knowledge whatsoever. In fact, he dodged Vietnam with a phony doctor’s note. Throughout his Presidency, Trump has shunned any and all expertise, something any president truly needs, but he continuously ignores. Shameful, foolhardy, and dangerous.
Trump continues his endless stream of lies to the American people. First, he claimed he consulted “with everyone” when he actually consulted with no one. The U.S. military is vehemently opposed to this sudden change because it leaves our country less safe and forces us to violate our promises to the Kurds. State also opposes the change. Trump was not interested in their advice or input. Not only are we reneging on our promises of support, but we are leaving the Kurds exposed to anticipated attack and genocide by Turkey. So, we lied to the Kurds, too. Trump also lied about the size and nature of the U.S. presence in Syria. There were only approximately 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria, not a large or expensive force by any measure. This is a small and sustainable footprint that thwarted Russian and Iranian expansion in Syria as well as fought ISIS. They were also providing crucial support to the Syrian Democratic forces, the Kurdish force the U.S. created to fight ISIS. Trump also falsely claimed we were leaving so U.S. troops no longer had to staff and protect the camps holding ISIS prisoners. The truth is that the Kurds have been doing that, not the U.S.
The Kurdish people will suffer greatly from Trump’s latest failure. While the Kurds acted valiantly, Trump cut secret deals with Putin and Erdogan to their detriment. Turkey has longed for decades for the opportunity to engage in ethnic cleansing against the Kurds to prevent them from ever achieving the autonomy they truly deserve and need. The Kurds lost over 11,000 fighters as our allies against ISIS. They did the heavy fighting on our behalf, they liberated cities, and they defeated ISIS. U.S. troops were there in part to keep Turkey from invading and slaughtering the Kurdish people, among our promises to the Kurds for their steadfast support. This move is entirely against our regional strategy and national security interests. It is a gift to Turkey and Russia.
Why would Trump do something so reckless and wholly against our own national interests? Erdogan clearly gave Trump an ultimatum in their private call and Trump immediately blinked as he is prone to do. He acceded to Erdogan’s threats, whether a threat to Trump Towers Instanbul (a major Trump business interest) and/or a threat for the Turkish military (one of the largest in the world) to roll past (if not through) the small U.S. force in the area. Trump cares not about our national security interests, our allies, or whether the job is really done. He is looking for a policy win, even one he fabricates, just to have an issue for his campaign. He is also desperate to preserve his business interests in Turkey. However, he tries to spin it, it will just be another lie to the American people and devastation for the Kurdish people.
Military members take an oath to obey the orders of the President and those above them in the chain of command. They may not pick and choose based on what policies they favor unless they truly believe the order is unlawful, in which case there is a process. No matter how virulently they oppose this atrocious change, they must follow the orders once given. Nothing here is unlawful, just immoral and unwise. The President loves his tweets, but that is not a proper way to issue orders. The Pentagon needs to have formal direction from the President and then they will issue implementing orders down the chain of command to those on the ground. As of this moment, most of the U.S. forces remain in place in Syria awaiting further instructions from the chain of command. It is unclear if opposition from some key Congressional Republicans will force the President to change his mind.
The military expects all presidents to follow established, critical procedures. They need all major policies to be deliberate; carefully and thoughtfully vetted through the normal consultation and coordination process that has served us well for generations. Trump completely ignores this in favor of no process whatsoever. There is no consistency in his foreign policy and no clear rationale or theory of approach. His actions all stem from his emotions of the moment. The consequences of rash, inept, ever-shifting policies place our troops in great peril and prevent proper planning and training. The U.S. will also suffer from deteriorating relations around the world when allies see we cannot be trusted. Our allies have already learned they cannot trust or rely on us. Forget times of crisis, under Trump the U.S. cannot even get the small stuff right. We need friends and allies; now is not the time to alienate them.
The President tweeted that if ISIS reemerged as a threat to the U.S., we would just go back in there and fight them again. That is a complete farce. If ISIS regenerated and took control over territory, it would be a much larger conflict. The U.S. would have to start from scratch with no footprint and no friends on the ground. It would be very difficult to get forces in place and under these circumstances we would need a much larger force. It is highly unlikely any of our allies or partners would support us at that time – they all saw how easily Trump betrayed the Kurds and broke our promises.
So, who wins from this abomination? Putin, Assad, Erdogan, and Iran win. We are faced with another example of President Trump doing Putin’s bidding. The continuing instability in Syria benefits Russia. Weakened U.S. security benefits Russia. Russia will continue to build on its foothold in Syria, one Trump was all too happy to provide after he took office. Wake up America – we have a President who continues to threaten our security and work for our adversaries. It may seem as unfathomable as it is unprecedented, but it is the reality of the Trump administration. Trump is carrying out Russia’s foreign policy.