President Trump broke this nation’s policy in Syria and gave the Turkish government free rein to attack our Kurdish allies, but now insists things in that war-torn region are going to be just fine.
Only the very gullible believe that.
American troops had been holding together a fragile stalemate in Syria, combating the Islamic State with the help of the Kurds while also detering Turkey from invading. That all fell apart in spectacular fashion when Trump withdrew US troops so abruptly that the Pentagon’s been bombing its own bases in Syria to prevent them from falling into the hands of other forces. Given the green light by the president, Turkey immediately invaded and got to work slaughtering the Kurds, who had placed their trust in the United States.
After a five-hour negotiation with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Vice President Pence announced the start of a five-day “pause” in the fighting along the Syrian border that could lead to a permanent cease-fire. In doing so, the United States gave Turkey pretty much everything it wanted — a 20-mile “safe zone” along its border with Syria, the eventual lifting of sanctions against some of its top officials and businessmen, and the promise of “hundreds of millions of dollars” to rebuild communities within Syria.
And what “concessions” did the United States get, reporters repeatedly asked Pence — that is, apart from the opportunity to save face both with the international community and with members of the president’s own party who have not been shy about expressing how appalled they are at this administration’s foreign policy blunders? Evangelical Christian leaders have been particularly vocal about the danger the precipitous withdrawal of American troops and the subsequent Turkish attacks have posed to minority religious communities that had been protected by the Kurds.
“First this ends the violence,” Pence assured. “Great news out of Turkey,” Trump posted on Twitter. “Millions of lives will be saved!” he added, ignoring that it was his policy blunder that put those lives at risk in the first place.
But then, for Trump, this whole episode is “7,000 miles away,” and if Russians are now occupying territory once held by US troops, well, “They got a lot of sand over there. So there’s a lot of sand that they can play with.” As for the Kurds, Trump insisted, “The Kurds are very well protected. Plus, they know how to fight. And, by the way, they’re no angels.’’
Yes, that’s what passes for US foreign policy these days.
Of course, cease-fires are always subject to interpretation. Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said: “This is not a cease-fire. . . . We will pause the operation for 120 hours in order for the terrorists to leave.”
By “terrorists,” he’s referring to Kurdish fighters linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has launched attacks on Turkish soil. And he said that 20-mile deep “safe zone” would stretch more than 280 miles from the northern city of Manbij to the Syrian border with Iraq.
It’s not the first time the Syrian Kurds gave up land and were promised a cease-fire in return. An effort earlier this year was brokered by the United States and then quickly violated by Turkey. But then American troops were on the ground to halt that invasion. Now they are not.
So Thursday the Trump administration got its headline — and perhaps that will be enough to appease some discontented Republicans of the deluded variety. Good for US Senator Mitt Romney for avoiding that trap. He took to the floor of the Senate yesterday to denounce the deal with Turkey for what it was — a sham.
“The announcement today is being portrayed as a victory. It is far from a victory,” Romney said.
Erdogan got everything he wanted. Mike Pence got a photo-op. The Kurds remain in harm’s way. And US policy in Syria remains a national disgrace.