On Sunday, President Trump spoke on the phone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On Sunday night, the White House announced the United States will endorse a Turkish military offensive across Turkey’s border with Syria, a de facto sign off on attacks of the U.S.-allied Kurds who have helped battle ISIS in the region. To facilitate the offensive, the U.S. will pull its troops out of the area, the White House added. On Monday, that withdrawal was set into motion.
It doesn’t appear Trump consulted with the Pentagon or Senate Republicans before ordering the move, which has been met with near-universal condemnation and could unleash chaos in the region.
Though the United States has long been allied with Kurdish forces in Syria, Turkey considers them terrorists and has sought to invade northern Syria to wipe them out. Removing U.S. troops from the region and enabling this action will appease not only Turkey, but Russia, which has also opposed the Kurds — or Syrian Democratic Forces — in the Syrian Civil War. The move will also effectively turn over thousands of captured ISIS fighters to Turkey.
As Brett McGurk, Trump’s former anti-ISIS envoy, pointed out on Twitter, Turkey “has neither the intent, desire, nor capacity” to manage the detained prisoners, which, according to the State Department and the Department of Defense, represent “the nucleus for a resurgent ISIS.”
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In other words, all hell is about to break loose.
Turkey has neither the intent, desire, nor capacity to manage 60k detainees in al Hol camp, which State and DoD IGs warn is the nucleus for a resurgent ISIS. Believing otherwise is a reckless gamble with our national security. Background here👇 https://t.co/7e20rUa4Sk
— Brett McGurk (@brett_mcgurk) October 7, 2019
McGurk resigned in December along with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis after Trump first announced he would remove U.S. troops from Syria, a move the president later walked back following intense criticism.
On Monday morning, Trump attempted to defend the action in a lengthy Twitter thread. “WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN,” he wrote along with claims that the “United States was supposed to be in Syria for 30 days,” that “100%” of the ISIS caliphate has been defeated, and that thousands of mostly European ISIS fighters have been captured.
None of this is true. There was never any 30-day timeframe for the U.S. to be in Syria; the majority of captured fighters being held in Syria are from Syria and Iraq; and, as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) pointed out Monday morning on Fox & Friends, ISIS has not been defeated. “To say to the American people that ISIS has been destroyed in Syria is not true,” he said.
Graham, who was one of the fiercest critics of Trump’s attempt to pull troops out last December, described his decision to follow through 10 month later as “impulsive,” “short-sighted,” “irresponsible,” and “unnerving to its core.”
Lindsey Graham calls in to Fox & Friends & calls Trump's decision to abandon the Kurds "impulsive."
"I hope I'm making myself clear how shortsighted & irresponsible this decision is in my view," he says. "This to me is just unnerving to its core." pic.twitter.com/URH0DVA1bo
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 7, 2019
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who along with Graham is considered one of the GOP’s top foreign policy specialists in the Senate, tweeted Monday that the move is a “grave mistake that will have implications far beyond Syria.” Nikki Haley, Trump’s former U.N. ambassador, also expressed concern. “We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back,” she wrote. “The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake. #TurkeyIsNotOurFriend.”
When asked on Fox & Friends whether he thought the decision may have been recommended by new Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, Graham said no, emphatically: “I would be shocked.” It seems he was right. Around the same time, Lucas Tomlinson of Fox News reported that the Pentagon was “completely blindsided” by the announcement.
So were the Kurds, who tweeted on Sunday that they consider the action a betrayal, especially considering they had just recently withdrawn some of their defenses from the Syria-Turkey border under the assumption the U.S. would have their back.
Based on our confidence in the #US efforts in the Security Mechanism agreement, we implemented all our commitments to remove military fortifications between Tal Abyad & SereKaniye, withdraw combat forces with heavy weapons, risking a security vacum as a result of the agreement.
— Coordination & Military Ops Center – SDF (@cmoc_sdf) October 7, 2019
Despite all of the Kurds who have died fighting ISIS on behalf of the U.S., Trump has now left the SDF out to dry. Why? It could be because he knew it would please Russia. It could be to distract from the Ukraine scandal. It could also be to preserve his substantial business interests in Turkey, where he opened a Trump Tower in 2012.
Just left Istanbul, Turkey, yesterday where #TrumpTowers was just opened–magnificent!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 23, 2012
It could have to do with all of these things, but the most salient reason is probably the simple fact that he’d recently spoken on the phone with Erdogan, an authoritarian whom he admires. Erdogan likely buttered Trump up before asking him for this one little favor and Trump, smitten, couldn’t refuse. The advice of the Pentagon, the will of Congress, and the Kurds who will die as a result of the action were afterthoughts.
Later on Monday, Trump returned to Twitter to quell concern that he was cowing to the will of Erdogan over his own military. “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, 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!),” he wrote, noting that the nation, along with Europe, must “watch over” the captured ISIS fighters.
“THE USA IS GREAT!” the president added.