This article was first published in Op-Ed News.
In a perfect world, we would have accepted Mullah Mohammed Omar’s offer to capture and turn over Osama bin Laden if the United States agreed to end bombing in Afghanistan in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks.
In a perfect world, we would never have invaded Iraq based on the lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was somehow affiliated with the 9/11 hijackers.
In a perfect world, we never would have insinuated ourselves in Syria back in 2013.
But we did, and now Donald Trump has decided we should leave.
Here’s the problem, though: in the five years we’ve been there, we have provided Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish and Arab units that have been fighting the Islamic State, or ISIS, the military assistance necessary to help protect themselves and others from ISIS’s proliferation.
Contrary to the excuse Trump gave the other day that ISIS has been defeated, it hasn’t.
Although we and Kurdish forces drove ISIS from northeastern Syria, ISIS is far from “defeated.”
The SDF and partner Kurdish militia, YPG, characterized the U.S.’s decision to withdraw as a “blatant betrayal.”
According to an SDF statement:
“The war against Islamic State has not ended and Islamic State has not been defeated. [Withdrawl would] create a political and military vacuum in the area, leaving its people between the claws of hostile parties.”
Basically, we would be creating the “political and military vacuum” that formed ISIS out of Iraq’s smoking shell back during the George W. Bush years.
No one (or at least few) expects the United States to remain in Syria–or anywhere else–indefinitely. Eventually we ought to allow sovereign countries to handle their own affairs.
So isn’t Trump’s withdrawal, no matter how messy, ultimately a positive move?
If done properly, with diplomacy, insight, forethought, patience, compromise, and enough humility to reach out to those who admittedly know more than he does, yes.
But Trump possesses none of those qualities, at least from what we’ve seen over the past two years.
Extricating ourselves from such a quagmire requires more than a presidential fiat in the form of a tweet.
Trump did not consult his defense secretary, James Mattis, who resigned over it Thursday. He did not consult the U.S. special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat Isis, Brett McGurk, who also resigned. Those who knew of Trump’s impending decision warned the Kurds would be slaughtered if we retreated.
But there was someone Trump did consult.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who discussed last week with Trump the national security threat the Kurds supposedly are to Turkey. According to reports of the conversation, Erdoğan told Trump Turkish forces are strong enough to eliminate any remaining ISIS strongholds, so there is no longer any need for U.S. involvement.
Trump reportedly responded:
“You know what? It’s yours. I’m leaving.”
No meetings with top-level advisers; no late night bull sessions discussing exit strategies; no summits, peace talks, or treaties.
Just, “I’m leaving.”
But there is another, more perfidious theory.
Turkey is no friend to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, especially after Saudi journalist and American resident Jamal Khashoggi was brutally tortured and murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
But Trump has pledged his fealty to Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which complicates his relationship with Erdoğan.
Further complicating it is the fact that we did not extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has been living in Pennsylvania since the 1990s and was involved in an aborted coup against Erdoğan in 2016. Former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was expected to accomplish this while he was working as a Turkish foreign agent.
Although he stated he will delay it, Erdoğan vows to eventually proceed with an assault on the Kurds, our ally.
Perhaps the conversation between Erdoğan and Trump went something like this:
“No cleric? No problem. Hand over the Kurds.”
A real president would have told Erdoğan, “Fine. We’ll leave, but if you come after the Kurds, we’ll be back.”
Turkey wants us out of Syria, Syria wants us out of Syria, and guess who else wants us out of Syria.
Trump just handed Vladimir Putin an early Christmas present.
Could a Trump Tower Istanbul be in the offing sometime in the future?
As progressive radio talk show host and author, Thom Hartmann, asked on his show Thursday: “What is Trump getting for betraying the Kurds?”
So, once again, Trump does the right thing but for the wrong reasons and ham-handedly, just like his handling of trade.
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