Predictably, Kurdish officials are already talking about liaising with Bashar al-Assad and the Russians just a day after Donald Trump blindsided Republicans with a snap decision to effectively green light Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s cross-border incursion against the Syrian Kurds who fought alongside US forces in the anti-ISIS campaign.
Trump’s move to pull some four-dozen US spec ops away from the border on Monday essentially frees up Turkey to engage Kurdish militia without having to worry about accidentally injuring or killing a US service member.
The White House conveyed the decision to Erdogan on a Sunday evening call with Trump.
By Monday afternoon, a long list of prominent US lawmakers including, but by no means limited to, Lindsey Graham, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Amy Klobuchar, Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio, lambasted the White House in sharply-worded critiques.
“Trump is deserting an ally in a foolish attempt to appease an authoritarian strongman”, Pelosi assessed.
“The Trump administration has made a grave mistake that will have implications far beyond Syria”, Rubio warned.
“A precipitous withdrawal of US forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime”, McConnell chided.
“The President is sending a message to our allies that the United States is willing to abandon them at any moment, destroying our credibility at every turn”, Klobuchar remarked.
Nikki Haley got in on the act too. “The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria”, she said. “Leaving them to die is a big mistake”.
For his part, Graham lost his mind even worse than that time he delivered an overwrought, red-faced defense of Brett Kavanaugh.
On Tuesday, Badran Jia Kurd told Reuters that “if America vacates the area and especially the border area for certain we, as a self administration and as the SDF, will be forced to study all the available options”.
Those options are fairly limited, but do include turning to Damascus for help. “At that time we may hold talks with Damascus or the Russian side to fill the void or block the Turkish attack, so this may develop and there could be meetings and contacts in case of a vacuum”, he said.
Despite the obvious enmity, this is hardly unprecedented. In fact, the Kurds attempted to talk to Assad back in December when Trump first telegraphed his intention to pull US forces out of the country, prompting the resignation of Jim Mattis.
Meanwhile, Turkey says all preparations for a military operation have been completed.
Trump has set himself up to be mercilessly ridiculed on the foreign policy front if his concession to Erdogan ends up playing into the hands of Assad and, ultimately, Iran.
Administration officials have sought to pitch this as an effort to protect Americans. “We were not asked to remove our troops. The president when he learned about the potential Turkish invasion, knowing that we have 50 special operations troops in the region, made the decision to protect those troops”, a source told Reuters.
That is clearly nonsense. Knowing full well how unpredictable Trump is, and having experienced what that unpredictability can mean for Turkey’s currency (and thereby the economy) in the summer of 2018, Erdogan wasn’t going to risk killing 50 American spec ops – not when the entire world knew they were there.
That, in turn, means Trump was being wholly disingenuous on Monday when he told reporters that “I have to sign letters often to parents of young soldiers that were killed and it’s the hardest thing I have to do. I hate it”.
He probably does “hate it” – even someone who lacks any semblance of empathy would be perturbed by having to sign letters to the parents of dead children. But the decision to move 48 special operators away from Syria’s border with Turkey has nothing to with a desire to protect American lives and everything to do with currying favor with Erdogan.
And if you don’t believe us, just ask Trump himself, who said this on Twitter Tuesday morning:
So many people conveniently forget that Turkey is a big trading partner of the United States, in fact they make the structural steel frame for our F-35 Fighter Jet…
Also remember, and importantly, that Turkey is an important member in good standing of NATO. [Erdogan] is coming to the U.S. as my guest on November 13th.
Perhaps realizing that was a bit tone deaf, Trump tried again, 25 minutes later.
“Any unforced or unnecessary fighting by Turkey will be devastating to their economy and to their very fragile currency”, he said. “We are helping the Kurds financially/weapons!”