IMMEDIATE RELEASE 17 October 2019
Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
“All roads with you lead to Putin”
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – After giving the Turkish president a green light to mount a ground assault against the Kurds in Syria, President Trump dispatched his vice president and his secretary of state to Istanbul to negotiate a five-day ceasefire in the hostilities.
This is like the arsonist returning to the scene of the crime and claiming credit for the fire hoses.
The problem is that what Turkish President Erdogan began can’t be undone. The military incursion, however brief, has altered the power balance in the Middle East, leaving the United States out in the cold while Trump proclaims victory.
A meeting at the White House Wednesday between the president and congressional leaders grew heated as Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told Trump the Russians have been looking for a “foothold” in Russia, and now they’ve got it.
“All roads with you lead to Putin,” she told him, an accusation that evidently infuriated him. According to multiple people in the room when the exchange occurred, Trump retorted, calling Pelosi a “third-grade politician.”
She replied, “I wish you were a politician, Mister President, so then you’d know the art of the possible.”
The meeting ended shortly thereafter with the Democrats walking out, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., calling the exchange a “diatribe,” in lieu of the promised dialogue on the crisis in Syria and the Middle East.
Earlier in the day, the House had voted 354 to 60 on a resolution to condemn the administration’s withdrawal of troops from Syria where a small force of 1,000 special-ops and covert forces had prevented Turkey from a full-scale assault on the Kurds.
Trump had been warned that an abrupt withdrawal of these forces would disrupt the fragile balance in Syria, and throughout the Middle East, but he ignored the advice of experts and instead bowed to the wishes of Erdogan, who quickly moved once he had Trump’s assent.
Certain laws of physics apply to foreign policy, including Newton’s Third Law: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Likewise, philosophy has long weighed in on the subject of voids, beginning with Aristotle who simply claimed they do not exist, by which he meant they are immediately filled. However, foreign policy, physics, and philosophy are not Trump's strong suits.
In a matter of hours, Russian troops and military maneuvers were visible in Syria. Russians and Syrians loyal to Russia’s client, Bashar al-Assad did not need to read Newton or Aristotle to take immediate advantage of Trump’s gift of void. It is not an overstatement to say that with a single phone call, Trump upended decades of geopolitics in the region.
It is an extraordinary feat and one which has Republicans scratching their heads to determine how the GOP could have gotten themselves into this position where American power and leverage counts for so little in such a crucial part of the world.
Trump can say that America is great again and no longer reliant on the Middle East for oil. He is making a whole host of excuses for what he did. Syria isn’t on our border, so why should we care? The Kurds “aren’t angels,” he said and can take care of themselves.
The Kurds lost 11,000 troops in the last eight years fighting ISIS, with twice that, 20,000, wounded, while Trump brags that he’s the one who defeated the ISIS caliphate.
Thousands of ISIS fighters captured by the Kurds escaped from Kurdish prisons in the days of fighting. Trump rationalized that by saying they should “go back to where they came from,” namely Europe. It’s Europe’s problem, not his.
Ceding Syria to Putin, Syrian President Assad and the Ayatollahs in Iran, who also support Assad, is a nightmare scenario that will not end after a five-day ceasefire. Trump has unleashed forces he cannot control.
What if Syria attacks Turkey, a NATO ally? The NATO treaty obliges the United States to defend a member state. But even this administration could not defend the indefensible, which would result in the break-up of NATO.
That is Putin’s goal. Pelosi is right, Putin was the primary beneficiary of Trump’s move and we are once again left to wonder: Whether in Ukraine, the Baltics, or Syria; whether the subject is interference in U.S. elections or bringing Russia into the G-7, why do all of Trump’s roads lead to Putin?
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 17 October 2019