Opinion: Trump’s Syria policy is a serious misstep

Late on Sunday, Oct. 6, President Donald Trump took a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Almost immediately after the call ended, Trump announced that the United States would execute a complete “deliberate withdrawal” of the then-1,000 U.S. stationed troops from Northern Syria, where the U.S. conducted anti-terrorism operations on the ground against the Islamic State since 2015. 

As part of those long-standing operations, the U.S. allied with Syrian Kurds, a battle-hardened group who proved critical to maintaining prisons that hold over 10,000 IS fighters. The Kurds are also a stateless ethnic people numbering in millions spread across Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq; the Kurds and the Turks are violently at odds over the prospect of an independent Kurdish nation.

Until recently, the Americans managed a peace between these two American allies. Since Trump’s announcement, that peace ended. The Turks and Turkish-backed groups began a brutal purge of Syrian Kurds, going so far as to deliberately attack Kurdish strongholds while American forces were still nearby. Additionally, high-value IS detainees escaped as increasingly strained Kurds shifted energies to defend against the Turks. 

The UN warned that the population displaced by these conflicts (currently around 130,000) may triple. Recently, the Kurds made a deal to exchange their hold on northern Syria for protection from Bashar al-Assad, the autocratic leader of the southern Syrian government, which is backed by Russia. The withdrawal is perhaps the most damning evidence that Donald Trump is heavily influenced by Russia’s foreign agenda.

After issuing the directive, Trump declared that Americans were tired of endless wars and celebrated freeing America from the burden of being the world’s police. Two days later, The White House announced that it would direct 3,000 troops to Saudi Arabia to deter Iran from attacking Saudi oil fields.

Faced with widespread criticism, notably from prominent Republicans, Trump has backtracked. However, rather than sending Americans back to stabilize the situation, rather than attempting a diplomatic solution, Trump only voiced support for American efforts to sanction Turkey. He tweeted on Monday, Oct. 7 that, “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.”

Meanwhile, Turks continue to slaughter Kurds. The President continues to fail to stop an ethnic cleansing he ostensibly permitted without any cogent reasoning.

To say that the effects of this decision justify outrage does not go far enough to recognize the carnage. Donald Trump managed to give Turkey the opportunity to massacre Syrian Kurds while increasing the potential for a return of the Islamic State. It is difficult to hyperbolize the significance of these events.

The decision to leave Syria is just the latest in a long series of episodes where Trump’s schizophrenic, stochastic “America First” foreign policy has damaged America’s reputation abroad, but the visceral optics of this policy’s immediate consequences double down on the question of whether America is a trustworthy ally. This will haunt American policy, foreign and domestic, far into the future.

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