On Monday, President Donald Trump managed to do what has seemed nearly impossible as of late: generate criticism from a large number of his fellow Republicans, including congressional leadership.
The move in question, a withdrawal of the small number of U.S. forces in northern Syria, announced on Twitter — drew widespread and deserved criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Monday, “A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup.”
Trump’s former UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, had strong words for the president’s move.
“We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back,” Haley tweeted. “The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake.”
Trump’s decision may fulfill a campaign promise to bring troops home from conflict in the Middle East — and that is a worthy and necessary aim, when done responsibly — but the way he has gone about this is wrong on so many levels. At the top of the list is the message that it sends to our partners around the world.
Hastily abandoning the Kurds, many of whom are likely to be killed in an expected assault by NATO ally Turkey, or in fighting between Turkish and Syrian forces, is reprehensible in its own right, particularly given the Kurds’ strong partnership in the fight against ISIS.
This also sends a terrible message that America does not stand by its friends and, worse, those who risked their lives to support the U.S. and its goals. It’s the type of move that purports to put America first but would actually undermine not only our moral standing around the world, but our interests and strength as well.
“The world must know America will stand with those who fight valiantly alongside us; if our word is not our bond, our ability to attract allies and partners in the future will be seriously compromised,” Sen. Angus King, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement on Monday. “The decision to leave our Kurdish partners at the mercy of the Turks is a moral and strategic mistake that undermines America’s trustworthiness in the eyes of the global community and makes it far less likely that we will be able to enlist allies and partners in future conflicts important to our national security… This is not America First – it is America Alone.”
Equally dangerous, Trump apparently made the decision on his own, without consulting advisors, including military leaders, who are experts on the region.
Despite Trump’s bluster, he has a bad track record negotiating with other leaders, and got “ rolled” by Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan, according to a National Security Council official who was on a Sunday phone call between the two leaders.
“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, 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 (I’ve done before!),” Trump tweeted Monday. It’s the sort of self-aggrandizing message an increasingly autocratic leader like Erdogan would likely appreciate, if it wasn’t directed at his country.
Trump followed up with more flawed Twitter diplomacy, saying it is “time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory. THE USA IS GREAT!”
Trump and others can continue to beat that drum all they want. But telling ourselves we’re great, and giving our partners around the world reason to believe it when we say it, are two very different things.