EDITORIAL: Trump trips global crisis

York Dispatch Editorial Board
In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, smoke billows from fires on targets in Ras al-Ayn, Syria, caused by bombardment by Turkish forces, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected offers for mediation with Syrian Kurdish fighters as the Turkish military continues its offensive against them in northern Syria. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

Usually, when President Donald Trump turns his back on an erstwhile ally, it amounts to little more than a public embarrassment, political estrangement or, at worst, legal peril. In the case of Kurdish allies in northern Syria, it has sparked a wholesale humanitarian crisis.

It has still not been adequately explained why the president abruptly reversed U.S. policy a little more than a week ago and pulled back the small but militarily significant American presence in the region. U.S. forces there were a stabilizing influence, protecting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, alongside whom they fought to erase the former ISIS caliphate in the area.

U.S. Defense and intelligence officials were certainly caught off guard by the announcement, which was issued on the president’s preferred platform, Twitter. That it came in the immediate wake of a phone call Trump had with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country considers the Kurds across its southern border enemies, does little to erase recent questions about the president’s diplomatic and/or telephonic skills.

As widely predicted, Erdogan lost no time in sending Turkish forces into Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria, where they have been raining down hell on Kurds, Syrian civilians, and even U.S. troops. Since the insurgence began last Wednesday:

  • Upward of 80 Kurdish fighters have been killed.
  • More than 750 people with suspected ties to ISIS escaped a camp that had been overseen by Kurdish soldiers.
  • At least 38 civilians, including Kurdish political leader Hevrin Khalaf, have been indiscriminately assassinated by Turkish forces or their Syrian proxies in what amount to war crimes.
  • U.S. troops themselves came under fire Friday by Turkish bombings. Turkey — a NATO ally, recall — said it was targeting nearby Kurdish fighters.
  • An estimated 100,000 refugees have already fled the fighting.
  • Global criticism has echoed and grown, both of Trump’s ill-considered decision and Turkey’s subsequent onslaught.

The carnage and confusion didn’t seem to bother Trump, who spent Saturday at a golf course for the 222nd time since his inauguration.

By Sunday, Trump ordered an immediate withdrawal of the 1,000 or so U.S. troops still in the region as the situation continued to deteriorate.

The president, characteristically, considers himself blameless in the numerous atrocities he has helped trigger. U.S. lawmakers — Democratic and Republican alike — do not share that view.

“The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria, and we should not be turning our backs on them,” Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, wrote Thursday in joining an ever-expanding list of congressional critics. “President Trump should immediately reverse his decision.”

Smucker is right. He’s also less than full-throated. Harsher rebukes have come from Republican Trump allies in Congress such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Still, as a whole, GOP lawmakers haven’t stood up to the president in any meaningful way, even as they join the world in decrying the indefensible decision and its violent aftermath.

Donald Trump has never been a man of his word. But America is not Donald Trump. Our nation has a long history of building alliances, honoring commitments and securing the greater good. Trump has badly tarnished this legacy, just he has badly tarnished much else about the office of president and America’s standing in the world.

In turning his back on the Kurds, President Trump wasn’t just throwing another expendable former partner under the bus, he was throwing a valued ally to the wolves. When the story of the Trump presidency is written, this will be among its saddest chapters.