Why you should care
Kurds trusted their U.S. allies. That now looks like a big mistake.
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WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? President Donald Trump has suddenly shifted U.S. policy in Syria, beginning the pullout of American troops this morning and announcing the U.S. wouldn’t intervene in a Turkish operation in the region that’s being anticipated with terror by Kurdish forces, longtime U.S. allies. Not only did the change appear to take all parties by surprise, but it’s also thought to be against the advice of the Pentagon and other Trump advisers.
Why does it matter? Such treatment of the Kurds, who have been a driving force in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), is a message to other U.S. allies and would-be partners: Don’t count on us. Turkey sees the Kurds as terrorists, and without the U.S. presence in the region, Kurdish forces may have to ally with Syria to protect themselves. Analysts warn that it could lead to a resurgence of ISIS in the area without Kurdish aid against the terrorist threat. Trump explained his reasoning via Twitter, declaring: “WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN.” Later, he tweeted more clarification, warning Turkey not to take advantage of the situation or he wouldn’t hestitate of “obliterate” its economy.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
Turning point. Trump reportedly changed his position after a late-night phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who threatened in a speech over the weekend that he intended a unilateral military incursion into Syria. Apparently not given warning of the policy shift, the Kurds called it a stab in the back, and American allies like Britain told journalists it was a surprise.
Prison handoff. Kurdish forces are currently responsible for thousands of imprisoned ISIS fighters. The U.S. says those captives will now be Turkey’s responsibility — but many fear the actual outcome will be that Kurdish forces, now fighting for their lives, will have to abandon the prisons … and thus allow those ISIS fighters the chance to regroup and regain strength.
Keep your friends close. While Erdoğan and Trump have enjoyed a close relationship, this latest foreign policy move could alienate other U.S. allies in multiple ways. First, Trump’s surprise action is likely to alarm European nations that weren’t warned or consulted about the move. Beyond that, what’s widely seen as a dangerous dumping of longtime Kurdish allies could make others — such as Israel or Saudi Arabia — think twice before relying on Trump’s loyalty or foreign policy pledges. Even Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, who’s long been a Trump supporter, said he’ll introduce a Senate resolution to combat the policy, telling Fox News that the move has “thrown the region into further chaos.”
WHAT TO READ
Trump Accused of Betraying Kurds and Giving ISIS New Life After Green-Lighting Turkey Invasion of Northern Syria, by Tareq Haddad in Newsweek
“The Kurds agreed to the measure at peace talks in August to show their seriousness about stability in the region — having been instrumental in clearing the area of ISIS — but Monday’s announcement directly contradicts what they were told.”
“The Syria decision follows a trend for Trump, who has pledged to reduce the country’s military footprint around the world — most controversially pondering a complete pullout from Afghanistan by 2020.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Turkey Sends Military Reinforcements to Border with Syria
Watch on VOA News on YouTube:
Turkey Set to Invade Northern Syria After U.S. Gives Blessing
“On Sunday, Kurdish groups in the region held a massive demonstration against the Turkish offensive. They say they feel abandoned by the U.S.”
Watch on Deutsche Welle on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
No backsies. Many have pointed out that Trump announced a full withdrawal from Syria last December, only to backpedal after his then Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned in protest. The concerns of Mattis and others, namely that abandoning the Kurds will offer ISIS a new opening to return to power, have resurfaced today. Trump’s son far maintained his position, though he did tweet warnings that Turkey shouldn’t go beyond the bounds of humane behavior — and Turkish officials say they’re watching closely, just in case.