REPUBLICANS HAVE FINALLY had it with Donald Trump.
He’s “putting the nation at risk,” thundered Senator Lindsey Graham. It’s “sickening,” says Representative Liz Cheney. “A grave mistake,” inveighs Senator Marco Rubio.
This unprecedented spasm of Republican outrage, however, has nothing to do with the latest revelations in the Ukraine scandal. It wasn’t prompted by the White House’s astounding argument that a House impeachment inquiry is “illegitimate” and the president is, in effect, above the law.
Rather, it’s the result of Trump’s treacherous decision to abandon America’s Kurdish allies in Syria.
I don’t doubt the indignation is genuine. Frankly, any person with a conscience should be aghast at Trump’s foreign policy perfidy.
Last Sunday, after a phone call between Trump and Turkish strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the White House issued a hastily crafted statement announcing that the United States military was, for all intents and purposes, giving Turkey a green light to intervene militarily in northern Syria.
Turkey’s target, a Kurdish militia known as the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), has been a vital US partner in the war against ISIS. More than 11,000 of the group’s soldiers have been killed in the conflict.
For years, Erdogan has sought US support for sending troops into SDF-controlled areas (Ankara considers the group a terrorist organization, responsible for attacks on Turkish soil). America had long resisted the calls — and even tried to reduce tensions between the two sides by coaxing the SDF to take down defenses and move armaments away from the Syria-Turkish border.
But with one impulsive move — and without consulting key US allies or even his own State Department and Pentagon — Trump undid years of painstaking security cooperation. The result is an unfolding humanitarian disaster, as tens of thousands of refugees flee the border, and a serious blow to US counter-terrorism efforts in Syria. It has the potential to further destabilize the region and lead to a renewal of violence.
Trump’s actions will have serious long-term consequences, fundamentally eroding America’s global standing and its network of alliances. The Syrian Kurds bled and died, fighting with US arms and support, in furtherance of America’s national security goals. They believed our assurances, which now appear worthless. It is one of the most despicable betrayals in modern American foreign policy — and one that is the direct result of presidential decision-making.
When Graham accused the president of “shamelessly abandon[ing]” the Kurds and the former US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said Trump was “leaving them to die,” neither were wrong.
But the hypocrisy — for congressional Republicans, especially — is breathtaking. They’re blasting Trump for forsaking American leadership and the nation’s values even as they refuse to condemn his efforts to solicit assistance from foreign governments in investigating his political rivals. If only Republicans were as bothered by Trump’s betrayal of American democracy as they are his betrayal of the Kurds.
Republicans who never bothered to sit back and consider the consequences of supporting an amoral, narcissistic, law-breaking president are now shocked — shocked — to see that decision blowing back on them.
But this is the poisoned chalice from which Republicans have chosen to drink. In return for Trump stocking the federal courts with conservative judges, cutting taxes for wealthy people, and doling out favors to donors, they’ve agreed to remain silent as he has taken a wrecking ball to the rule of law and our democratic norms.
But no one makes a deal with the devil that turns out well. And no one should be more unsurprised by this than Graham, who in May 2016, tweeted that “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed. . . and we will deserve it.”
Graham was referring to the Republican Party, which has yet to face a true reckoning for supporting Trump. But as we were reminded again last week, it’s everyone else who is suffering the consequences.Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.