The brave Kurdish fighters who led the assault against the Islamic State side-by-side with their American partners are now being slaughtered in the streets of northeastern Syria. Their blood is on our hands.
Or, more specifically, their blood is on the hands of Donald Trump, who earlier this week ordered the withdrawal of the small contingent of US forces that had helped patrol the border with Turkey. The president abandoned the Kurds after a Sunday phone call with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, another of the world’s autocrats with whom Trump has found common ground.
Somewhere both Russia’s Vladimir Putin, patron of war-torn Syria, and Syria’s own tyrant, Bashar Assad, are smiling.
What did our allies the Kurds do to deserve this — this invitation to annihilation?
“They didn’t help us in the Second World War,” Trump told reporters Wednesday. “They didn’t help us at Normandy.”
“With all that being said, we like the Kurds,” he added.
That will come as cold comfort to fighters and civilians alike who are fleeing the area in the wake of the Turkish assault.
In agreeing to the partial US withdrawal, the president was, of course, also boosting the flagging political fortunes of Erdogan, who after 16 years in power, has seen the Turkish lira plummet in value and an opposition candidate win a June election for mayor of Istanbul.
Turkey considers the Kurdish fighters terrorists because of their links to the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party. But for now they make an all-too-convenient foil for the embattled autocrat best known for keeping his country atop the list of nations that imprisons its own journalists.
The broader question, of course, is what will the abandonment of the Kurds, and the humanitarian crisis that will inevitably follow the Turkish assault, mean for the future of US foreign policy and our place in the world.
Some 450,000 people live within three miles of the Syrian-Turkish border. Bombs do not discriminate between fighters and civilians, between Kurds and Syrian Arabs or the minority Christians, who have also been under Kurdish protection.
The Turkish shelling has disrupted the lives of tens of thousands. Operation Peace Spring, as the Turks have called it, is anything but. The atrocities that follow will also be on us — an abandonment of American values as well as of the Kurds themselves.
The other immediate danger is a possible resurgence of ISIS, possibly aided and abetted by the tens of thousands of Islamic State fighters and their families currently being held in camps and prisons controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Turkish promises to maintain control of the detainees have been less than reassuring. After all, many of them arrived in Syria by crossing the Turkish border in the first place. Turkey under Erdogan remains a NATO ally but has over the years become an unreliable one, finding more common ground with Russia than with fellow members of the North Atlantic alliance.
But the longest lasting effect of this pathetic excuse for American foreign policy will be its impact on future alliances. The word of this nation used to mean something on the world stage. When allies commit troops to a cause, when they pledge their own blood and treasure in a common fight, the least they should expect of the United States government is that it will keep its word.
In abandoning the Kurds in Syria, this administration has brought shame on all of us and made an exceedingly dangerous part of the world even more unstable.