Trump Pulls U.S. Troops Back as Turkey Invades Syria, Threatens Kurds
On Sunday, the White House reported that Turkish forces would advance into Northern Syria, targeting the Kurds, a U.S. ally and modernized Muslim people group in the region. U.S. troops will withdraw from the situation, effectively abandoning the Kurds to Turkish forces. Both Democrats and regular Trump allies have spoken out against the removal of U.S. troops even as Trump defended it in the interests of pulling America out of foreign wars.
"Today, President Donald J. Trump spoke with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey by telephone. Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria. The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial 'Caliphate,' will no longer be in the immediate area," the White House announced in a statement Sunday.
The statement justified U.S. non-intervention by noting that the U.S. "pressured France, Germany, and other European nations, to take [captured ISIS figthers] back, but they did not want them and refused. The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer. Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial 'Caliphate' by the United States."
The statement did not address Turkey's threat to the Kurds, a religious and ethnic minority in Turkey and Northern Syria which has declared independence and has fought an effective war against Turkey. Many observers have warned that Turkey's proclaimed attacks on the Islamic State (ISIS) have been a smokescreen to mask their attacks on the Kurds, both inside and outside the country. While the Kurds are mostly Muslim, they embrace religious freedom and some Christian churches have warned their lives are in mortal danger from the Turks.
One U.S. commander who helped lead the anti-ISIS effort told Fox News the decision not to engage amounts to a propaganda victory for Chia and Russia. Those U.S. rivals can now tell would-be U.S. allies that America will abandon them, the commander warned. "No one will ever partner with us again."
As for Turkey's threat to the Kurds, the military officer added, "They are going to slaughter those cats."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a vocal Trump defender, attacked the decision on Twitter.
"I don’t know all the details regarding President Trump’s decision in northern Syria. In process of setting up phone call with Secretary Pompeo. If press reports are accurate this is a disaster in the making," Graham tweeted.
He warned that this move "ensures ISIS comeback; Forces Kurds to align with Assad and Iran; Destroys Turkey’s relationship with U.S. Congress; Will be a stain on America’s honor for abandoning the Kurds."
Graham further warned that "if this plan goes forward," he "will introduce Senate resolution opposing and asking for reversal of this decision. Expect it will receive strong bipartisan support."
Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina and former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., also condemned the move. "We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake," she tweeted, with the hashtag "Turkey Is Not Our Friend."
Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) warned that Trump's decision to allow Erdogan to invade Syria "betrays Kurds, strengthens ISIS and endangers American homeland."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) blasted the move as a "grave mistake." Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) called it a "catastrophic mistake that puts our gains against ISIS at risk and threatens US security." Worse, she warned that the decision ignores the "lesson of 9/11. Terrorists thousands of miles away can and will use their safe-havens to launch attacks against America."
Most of these Republicans often present a united front for Trump against Democrat attacks, but they would not support the president in abandoning the Kurds.
Trump defended his decision on Twitter Monday morning.
"The United States was supposed to be in Syria for 30 days, that was many years ago. We stayed and got deeper and deeper into battle with no aim in sight. When I arrived in Washington, ISIS was running rampant in the area. We quickly defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate," he tweeted.
Trump noted that many ISIS fighters came from European countries, but European countries would not take them back, expecting the U.S. to detain them, "thinking, as usual, that the U.S. is always the 'sucker,' on NATO, on Trade, on everything."
As for the Kurds, he tweeted: "The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades. I held off this fight for ... almost 3 years, but it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN. Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to ... figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their 'neighborhood.'"
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) defended the decision. "I stand with Donald Trump today as he once again fulfills his promises to stop our endless wars and have a true America First foreign policy," he tweeted.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) attacked the president for using "Rand Paul’s 'endless wars' talking points as he orders America to once again abandon our friends and give Russia & Iran exactly what they want. This is wrong."
Trump attempted to flip the script. "I was elected on getting out of these ridiculous endless wars, where our great Military functions as a policing operation to the benefit of people who don’t even like the USA. The two most unhappy countries at this move are Russia & China, because they love seeing us bogged down, watching over a quagmire, & spending big dollars to do so," he tweeted.
Americans have historically supported non-intervention until foreign foes attack the U.S. While it would be nice to merely pull out of the "endless wars," Americans should not forget the lesson of ISIS: The U.S. invaded Iraq, took out Saddam Hussein, tried to set up an American-style government, and then withdrew. The withdrawal of U.S. troops enabled the disaffected former soldiers with Hussein to join and grow ISIS, facing a new Iraqi state that was unprepared to deal with the problem, because the U.S. engaged in nation-building but did not follow through.
American soldiers should fight for America first, and help U.S. allies is in America's interest. Withdrawal from the theater of war does not come without consequences. The original invasion of Iraq may have been a mistake, and former President Obama's decision to put troops in Syria may have been a mistake, but that does not mean withdrawal is the right course.
For decades, presidents have sent U.S. troops into combat without a formal declaration of war. If Congress is incensed that Trump is withdrawing from Syria and leaving the Kurds defenseless, they could vote on a declaration of war against Turkey, or at least an authorization of military force to aid the Kurds, to follow the Constitution and return the war-making power to Congress where it belongs.
One of the many reasons why Rand Paul opposes "endless wars" is the way presidents subvert the Constitution by going to war without a declaration of war. Such a formal declaration would mollify Paul and it may tie Trump's hands. With a declaration of war, Trump would focus on winning.
Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.