In perhaps the most serious and consequential blunder of his controversial presidency, Donald Trump essentially gave a green light for the brutal Turkish invasion of Kurdish controlled sections of northern Syria, abandoning brave allies in that dangerous region.
The ill-conceived decision is part of a Rubik’s Cube of fast-moving, increasingly erratic moves that have shaken the confidence of even some of the president’s most die-hard supporters.
A phone call between Trump and Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was far more damaging and deadly than his conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in terms of the lives that have been lost. At press time, the situation on the ground was becoming more unstable by the hour.
And that likely consequence was recognized by some of Trump’s most fervent supporters in Congress, including Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio. Until now, they have been reluctant, to say the least, to criticize the president about practically anything. But after the Turkey announcement, they denounced the move.
“We destroyed ISIS with the help of the Kurds,” Graham said. “We can’t abandon the Kurds now. We can’t turn it over to Turkey. To think that will work is really delusional and dangerous.”
Graham has said he will seek a bipartisan vote in Congress to slap Turkey with sanctions for its aggression in Syria.
Closer to home, Republican Rep. John Shimkus of Collinsville, who has announced that he will not seek re-election after serving 24 years, joined the chorus of criticism of the White House in unusually strong terms.
“I’m heartbroken by what we are enabling Turkey to do in Syria,” Shimkus said in a statement.
He also said he had given up his post as honorary co-chair of the president’s re-election campaign in Illinois, asking that “my name be removed from his campaign’s official list of supporters.”
He told KMOX radio that “we have just stabbed our allies in the back.”
And, Shimkus added:
“This has just shocked, embarrassed and angered me. It’s terrible. It’s despicable. I don’t have enough words to mention it. I am embarrassed by it, and I am saddened for the Kurdish people.”
The massive invasion by Turkey is indeed a stab in the back of the brave pro-American Kurdish fighters who were the most effective force in defeating ISIS in northern Syria. About 70,000 ISIS terrorists could escape in the aftermath of Turkey’s invasion and could end up in European nations, creating chaos and instability.
Turkey, which is waging an ongoing fight against a Kurdish minority within its borders, regards the Kurds as a terrorist organization. Weekend fighting in northern Syria showed how the situation is poised to spin out of control, with the United States apparently helpless to stop it.
Against that backdrop, how confident can Israel feel about support the United States will provide the only democracy in the Middle East? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who campaigned in two elections on his close ties to Trump, expressed solidarity with the “brave Kurdish people.”
In a highly disturbing development reported Monday by The New York Times, Kurdish fighters in Syria announced a deal with dictator Bashar al-Assad, who is responsible for killing as many as 500,000 of his own people.
The old adage that the enemy of my enemy is my friend is playing out with dizzying speed. The big winners are Assad’s regime, Russia and Iran, along with Iranian proxies Hezbollah and Hamas. The big losers are the United States, NATO (of which Turkey is a rogue member) and Israel, where the latest turn of events is like a splash of icy water in the face of Netanyahu, who has boasted about his close relationship with Trump as he struggles to form a new coalition.
A perceptive article by Seth J. Frantzman in the Oct. 7 issue of The Jerusalem Post is headlined: “Can Israel trust the U.S. after Syria withdrawal?” The piece points out that both Iran and Syria gain from Turkey’s aggression at Israel’s expense.
Frantzman frames the effect on Israeli-U.S. relations starkly:
“An erratic Washington, even one that appears more pro-Israel than previous administrations, leaves more questions than answers. Israel’s enemies exploit that kind of uncertainty. There is a feeling that while the US supports Israel’s actions in the region, Israel is also alone and not being consulted on regional strategy.”
The Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper in Israel blasted the president’s actions in these harsh terms:
“Trump abandons allies without blinking, and Israel is liable to be next. The entire balance of power in the Middle East is built on a very delicate web of supports, pressures, understandings and agreements — and Trump is unraveling that web.”
In 1967, when Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser ordered United Nations troops out of the Sinai, then-Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban asked pointedly, “What good is an umbrella if it is withdrawn as soon as it starts to rain?”
Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lamely tried to deny they have given a green light for Erdogan to strike. But their statements ring hollow in the wake of the feckless moves by the United States and a president whose standing seems to grow weaker by the day.
Other nations are taking note of the administration’s free-floating policies, including Iran and Russia, a development that is making Israel nervous and should worry everyone with a stake in Middle East peace.
Foreign policy is much too serious to be discussed in impromptu phone chats by a president who too often ignores the advice of experts, going instead with his gut instincts. The result: a situation that even a senior administration official defines as “total chaos.”
Once again, Israel is reminded that it must provide its own security.