IMMEDIATE RELEASE 24 October 2019
Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Cowardly, catastrophic, and irreversible
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – It is cowardly, catastrophic, and irreversible. It also is dishonorable, self-destructive, and a blatant betrayal. The human tragedy unfolding on the Syrian-Turkish border need not have happened; should not have happened. The United States is so powerful that it can do much with little, which is why a small force initially deployed by President Obama was all that was needed to prevent Turkey from making a move on the Kurdish-occupied area in northern Syria.
But President Trump abruptly and unconscionably ended that policy on a Sunday in October when he called Turkish President Erdogan and gave him the go-ahead to move Turkish forces into Syria while ordering U.S. troops to withdraw – troops whose exceptionally large influence had been disproportionate to its incredibly small numbers.
With one phone conversation and without any consultation with his defense secretary or members of Congress, Trump catapulted Syria, the Middle East, Europe and indeed the United States into an irreversible catastrophe.
In one of the most cowardly acts a U.S. president has ever done, Trump has created a trail of tears. Stories of the needless suffering of Kurdish civilians bombarded by shelling from the invading Turkish forces confirmed what retired General John Allen lamented: “He has blood on his hands.” Even Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell calls what Trump has done “a grave strategic mistake.”
By acting alone to give a NATO ally, Turkey, a green light to attack the Kurds, Trump undermines NATO and its ability to act collectively. Erdogan quickly met with Russian President Putin in Sochi to carve up a Kurdish homeland, effectively giving NATO notice of its ineffectiveness.
The meeting was reminiscent of Yalta just 283 miles from Sochi. There, the leaders of the three great powers who were nearing victory in World War II – Stalin, Churchill and FDR – had met to decide the fate of Europe. However, the United States was not at the table in Sochi to assert its benevolent and restraining influence upon Turkey and Russia or Russia’s deadly clients, Syria and Iran.
Trump says it doesn’t matter, that it’s a bunch of sand in the Middle East, and they’ve been murdering each other for hundreds of years. Let them figure it out, he says.
The hasty retreat of U.S. troops from Syria is being compared to the loss of credibility Obama suffered when he drew a red line in Syria, threatening military action, then backed down.
It made Obama look weak, but he took his lead from the British Parliament and U.S. Congress who refused to back military action.
Trump went ahead without any of those niceties, stunning America’s allies abroad and confounding lawmakers in both parties on Capitol Hill.
There was no reason to abruptly end the U.S. presence in Syria. American troops were not dying. In the fight against ISIS, the Kurds – America’s strongest and most steadfast allies in the region – were dying and suffering at our behest, giving their lives, 11,000 in the last eight years with another 20,000 wounded.
The U.S. troops were in Syria as a tripwire, successfully preventing Turkey from attacking the Kurds. So, when the Americans pulled out, the abandoned Kurds pelted them with potatoes and rotten vegetables.
After World War II, the U.S. Army established a Berlin Brigade that served throughout the Cold War to keep the peace in a Germany divided between east and west. It was, as its name says, a small force but it worked. And if an American president had pulled that brigade out of Berlin and handed the city to the Soviet forces, the betrayal would have undermined U.S. influence in Europe, undermined the NATO alliance, and probably led to a different outcome in the Cold War.
The next president could not have reversed that decision; it would have been impossible. Likewise, Trump’s successor will be unable to undo what Trump has undone in Syria.
Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
© 2019 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND
IMMEDIATE RELEASE 24 October 2019