Trump’s Disgraceful Betrayal of the Kurds

Back in July, I wrote that I’d rather have my son run our foreign affairs than the president.

In particular, [Trump] has absolutely no feel for how other nations think about the United States. He doesn’t know how South Korea feels about North Korea or Japan, or what it meant to tear up the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He doesn’t know why the Russians were so interested in the success of Brexit, although he certainly jumped in with both feet to lend a hand. He doesn’t understand why the European Union wanted to strengthen their economic relationship with Ukraine or why they so strongly object to the annexation of Crimea. He doesn’t know why the Assad regime is opposed by ISIS or why the Turks don’t want us using the Kurds as proxies in the region. He doesn’t know why the Saudis are so angry with Qatar or that we depend on Qatar for our most important military base in the Middle East.

The general pattern has been so disastrous that it appears to all the world like Trump is deliberately following a Russian-inspired plot to alienate America from its allies, weaken NATO, tear apart the European Union, and drive our troops out of both the Far East and the Middle East. More than anything else, it seems this way because almost all the “errors” are pointed in the same direction of undermining Russia’s adversaries.

But is has to be admitted that Trump routinely makes mistakes that are rooted in his own magical thinking and ignorance. His “wall” with Mexico is one example, while his trade war is another. These actions may please Russia but they’re equally explainable by Trump’s racist and superficial understanding of how things actually work.

All of those issues are still current and causing our nation problems. In the case of the Kurds, the president impulsively sold them out while talking on the phone with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He clearly did not understand the implications of what he was doing. Almost immediately, our best allies in the region applied for protection from the government in Damascus.

Syria’s most powerful Kurdish militia has called on the Assad government to send its forces to protect against an attack by Turkey, the first sign of shifting political alliances in eastern Syria since President Trump announced that he would withdraw American troops…

…In a statement issued on Friday, Syria’s most powerful Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G., called on the Syrian government to send troops to the city of Manbij to ward off a possible attack by Turkey.

The call was notable in that a United States ally, the Kurds, was calling on an enemy of the United States to protect it against another United States ally. The Kurds see Mr. Trump’s decision as a betrayal.

For my part, I’ve been concerned about our reliance on the Kurds ever since I was given an off-the-record briefing by three senior Obama Administration officials in September 2014 in which they spelled out their strategy for taking back Mosul and defeating ISIL’s “caliphate” in Syria. I spent that call pulling my hair out mainly because I didn’t think it was going to work in the long term. I didn’t want us investing in a problem we couldn’t solve, and I didn’t think we’d be able to stick with the Kurds even if they enjoyed victories because their more powerful Arab and Turkish neighbors would eventually turn on them.

That is coming true now, but for a reason a lot different from what I anticipated. I did not expect an American president to simply give Turkey a green light to slaughter them. Fortunately, some people in the administration convinced Erdoğan to delay the ethnic cleansing that Trump so breezily approved, but that doesn’t seem like it will last.

Turkey has postponed a military offensive in northeastern Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, citing conversations with President Trump and other American officials, but he added that it would eventually follow through on plans for an assault on Kurdish and Islamic State forces there.

And, as with all things Trump, what looks like bumbling incuriosity and ignorance somehow winds up serving Russia’s interests.

One [Israeli] official said the United States was practically evacuating the Middle East, leaving Russia as the sole global power there. The official said Israel feared that without an American presence, weapons would flow freely from Iran and Russia to Syria, and from Syria to Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy in Lebanon.

The official said Mr. Trump had effectively thrown Israel under the bus — and the bus in this case was a Russian Army transport truck transporting weapons to Syria and Hezbollah.

It’s almost a magic trick how Trump’s immorality and superficial understanding of how things actually function somehow always work to Putin’s advantage.

I didn’t think we should use the Kurds as proxies for a whole host of reasons, including that we’d eventually betray them. But this is a worse betrayal than anything I could have imagined, and cannot be justified on any level, whether moral, strategic, military, or diplomatic. We are under no real pressure to leave Syria right now. Our mission has been incrementally successful. It’s not an enormous investment, we are not suffering many casualties, and the American people are not clamoring for us to end our commitment. So, why has Trump just forced our Kurdish allies to run for protection to Assad and his protectors in Tehran and Moscow?

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.