“. . . if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey. . .” So said Donald Trump, spinning the most unconscionable, reprehensible and heinous decision—among so many such decisions—of his presidency. In the event you were visiting another planet and missed the event, here are the salient points.
Kurdish History in Brief
Historically the Kurds have never had their own country. When the WW l victors drew borders of new nation-states, Kurdish interests were largely ignored. Thus, the Kurdish population ended up occupying principally, what are today, parts of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran. Their different language, culture and customs always marked them as outsiders to the ethnic group controlling the country. These differences exist today and are a continuing source of repression by those who control the countries in which they live.
After WW II, the Kurds established the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad in the Iranian City of Mahabad. But the Republic collapsed when the Soviet Union, which had supported its creation, withdrew from Iran. The former Shah had treated the Kurds brutally, so they actively supported the 1979 revolution. However, after the revolution, the new government returned to hostile treatment of the Kurds. This gave rise to a militant group, the PJAK (Free Life Party of Kurdistan), operating out of Northern Iraq. In 2019 the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights testified that about half of Iran’s political prisoners are Kurdish.
The U.S. failed in its commitment to support the Kurds in 1991 after the Gulf War. But subsequently, the U.S. established a “safe haven” and “no-fly zone” in the Kurdistan Region to provide asylum from Saddam Hussein. In 2003 the U.S. invaded Iraq and ousted Hussein, enlarging the area of the Kurdistan Region. Today, the Kurdistan Region, is the closest the Kurds have come to having their own country. It operates semi-autonomously with its own government and security forces, but also participates in the federal state institutions in Baghdad.
Successive Turkish Governments have suppressed the Kurds, banning the Kurdish language, dress, customs and names. Their clear intent was and is to extinguish the Kurds as a separate ethnic group. The European Court of Human Rights has condemned Turkey for its execution and torture of civilians and destruction of villages. In short, the Court blamed Turkey for thousands of human rights abuses. Desirous of an independent Kurdistan or more autonomy within the country, the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party) was formed in 1978. It began to fight the Turkish Government in 1984. The U.S., U.K., European Union, Japan and Turkey have labeled it a terrorist organization. But the U.N., Switzerland, China, Russia, India and Egypt have not. There have been ceasefires, but none have prevailed to bring peace to the combatants.
The Syrian Government routinely harassed the Kurdish population, which finally rebelled as did other ethnic groups. Two Kurdish organizations emerged from their rebellion: the PYD (Kurdish Democratic Party) and the KNC (Kurdish National Council). These Parties created the KSC (Kurdish Supreme Council) to govern the areas of Syria under Kurdish control. The KSC, in turn, created the YPG, (People’s Protection Units) to control Kurdish inhabited areas. The YPG aligned itself with Arab, Assyrian/Syriac militias and other smaller forces to form the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces). Since the YPG is closely associated with the PKK, many see the SDF as simply a Public Relations front to mask its connection with the Turkish PKK.
Nevertheless, U.S. Special Forces, allied with the SDF/YPG, routed ISIS, capturing thousands, and kept Syrian Government forces at bay. These actions established a “safe zone” in northern Syria, but at the cost of thousands of Kurdish lives.
The U.S. Dilemma
The Kurds have been one of America’s best allies and certainly earned the respect and support of the United States. On the other hand, Turkey is a NATO ally, at war with the PKK, the Turkish terrorist organization. The Syrian YPG is an outgrowth of the PKK and its members are believed to be followers of the jailed PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan. The U.S. had made some modest effort to defuse the situation, but Turkey was and is more interested in destroying the Kurdish threat. Though having a limited troop presence between Turkey and the YPG, the U.S. was able to forestall a Turkish invasion. That is until the man with “great unmatched wisdom” decided to demonstrate just how wise he was.
Trump’s Great Unmatched Lack of Wisdom
Former Cabinet Secretaries have referred to Trump as a moron and an idiot. Sadly, I believe they overrate him.
The Phone Call
In a phone call with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Turkey, Trump said he would remove U.S. forces, thereby abandoning the U.S.’ Kurdish allies. Thus, he gave the green light to Turkey to invade northern Syria. Erdoğan wanted to establish an area without the presence of YPG forces that could attack Turkey. Trump claimed it was to follow through on his campaign promise to bring the troops home.
Nice, but nonsense. His military and other advisers opposed such an action, and were caught blindsided. Clearly, Trump is unaware of the region’s history and incapable of understanding the consequences. And there are terrible consequences that impact the national security of the United States.
Trump claims that in the phone call he warned Erdoğan, “If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).” Erdoğan denies Trump ever said that.
Trump Justifies Betrayal
Let us also not forget how Trump subsequently justifies abandoning the Kurds. “ . . . They didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy.” That’s a true but ridiculous statement. The Kurds never had their own nation state to make such a decision. It’s obvious that Trump doesn’t have even a grade school understanding of history.
Trump also tweeted that “we are slowly & carefully bringing our great soldiers & military home.” A blatant misstatement. While withdrawing troops from Syria, he sent about 2,000 troops to Saudi Arabia. According to Fox News, since May, U.S. Forces in the middle East have increased by 14,000.
While the present situation is highly fluid, some consequences are already evident.
Lives of American Soldiers
The most immediate consequence is that the lives of American soldiers are at risk. They are now forced to suddenly withdraw from territory without adequate preparation or support. To prevent enemy forces from obtaining supplies and munitions, American planes have been called in to bomb and demolish sites American troops have abandoned. But major risks remain as Americans withdraw amid armed forces of Kurds, Turks, Syrians and Russians in relatively confined areas. Yet Trump doesn’t seem to care about the danger in which he’s placed our troops.
The U.S. Reputation
United States national security has been built on alliances with other countries—NATO being a prime example. But Trump’s action in Syria has solidified a growing U.S. reputation as less than a loyal, dependable ally. Hard to maintain our good name when he betrays an ally that has stood with us at a huge cost in lives of its troops. Perhaps Israel should reflect on what might happen if it needs U.S. help. It’s well known Trump has no loyalty to those who have been loyal to him. However, Israel loving Evangelical support in the United States might guarantee Trump answers the phone if Israel calls.
The Kurds’ priority is now fighting the Turkish invaders in northern Syria while finding refuge elsewhere. Hundreds of ISIS prisoners have already escaped from custody, and more, including several of high value, are expected to. Trump has brushed that problem off since he believes ISIS will go to Europe to commit their terrorist acts. Perhaps Trump believes European countries will get what they deserve since they refused to take back their nationals, captured ISIS members. Apparently, he is in denial that the U.S. is just as much an ISIS target.
The situation on the ground in Syria has changed dramatically. With the U.S. departure, the Kurds are looking to the Syrian Government for help to defend against the Turkish invasion. Welcome back Bashar Assad and hello Vladimir. Russia has just gained a larger voice in Middle-East politics at the expense of the United States. Iran is licking its chops, too. No more pesky U.S. military to interfere with Iran’s control of Syria and opportunity to attack Israel. Take note, Netanyahu.
Then there’s that irksome problem of nuclear arms at the Incirlik Airbase in Turkey. The U.S. stores an estimated 50 B-61 hydrogen bombs—more than 25% of the nuclear weapons in the NATO arsenal. Turkey has purchased the Russian S-400 missile system, which violates U.S. law and requires the U.S. to impose sanctions. That is in addition to any sanctions the U.S. may impose as a result of Turkey’s invasion. Whether Turkey should remain a member of NATO is a subject worth exploring. Though it’s further complicated by all those hydrogen bombs.
Aside from the consequences that challenge our national security, this action by Trump will likely cause the death of thousands of innocent civilians. Aside from sheer stupidity, I believe it is the most callous, inhuman and heinous action he’s ever initiated. And I find myself trying to understand his motivation.
Is his narcissism so great and his understanding so lacking that he didn’t realize what he was doing? Possibly. He is shockingly stupid and uninformed.
Is his narcissism and confidence in his “gut instinct” so great that he knows more than his experienced advisers and believes this is the right decision? Possibly. He repeatedly tells us he is a stable genius and knows more than his generals.
Is his narcissism and view of himself as a strongman so great that he believes no world leader would do anything to challenge or upset him? Possibly. But look how Kim Jung Un has played him.
Perhaps we can sum up these possibilities in one sentence. His narcissism made him do it.
The Russian Connection
Of course, we cannot dismiss his Vladimir crush. He’s placed Russia’s interests above ours so many times, and we know this green light move is in Russia’s interest. Before Trump could tweet his message to the world, Russia became the power broker in Syria and a—if not the most—dominant player in Middle-East politics.
Then there’s always the self-interest factor. After all Trump does have two hotels in Turkey. Could that have influenced his actions? Perhaps this explains why Trump had instructed his lackey Attorney General to go softly on Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank, accused of circumventing U.S. sanctions on Iran. We might ask why an indictment against the bank was only filed Tuesday, October 15th after Turkey’s invasion became a cause célèbre?
And then there’s the question of why the Trump administration has been trying to extradite the exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen for his alleged role in the 2016 attempted coup? I guess Trump wants to maintain a good relationship with his upright friend Recep.
More thoughts on Trump’s Rationale
On Monday October 14th, Trump tweeted: “After defeating 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, I largely moved our troops out of Syria. Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land. I said to my Generals, why should we be fighting for Syria…. and Assad to protect the land of our enemy? Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte. I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!
It’s amazing how many lies and how much stupidity Trump can squeeze into a few sentences. He defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate? Obviously, he doesn’t understand the conflict in Syria. He has cleared the way for Russia to enhance its influence in the Middle-East and implies that the U.S. is in no danger because we’re 7000 miles away. Representative Liz Cheney reminded him that the 9/11 terrorists came from Saudi Arabia, which is more than 7000 miles away.
A Formula that Works
I doubt there are many people happy with the endless wars in which the U.S. has been engaged since the terrorist attacks in 2001. And it is understandable to want to bring our troops back home. But turning inward and bringing all troops home will not keep the United States safe. The world is a dangerous place and made more so by the expanded reach of non-state actors like ISIS and Al Qaeda.
Dealing with such situations requires a solution that does not call for an invasion of hundreds of thousands U.S. troops. The U.S. presence in Syria—before Trump’s traitorous action—represented a realistic and effective way to approach this issue.
Kurds were willing to partner with the U.S. to deal with ISIS because we had a mutual interest in defeating them. They supplied the necessary ground forces and we provided a limited number of U.S. Special Forces and other support. The Kurds paid a terrible price in lives, but the partnership worked. We took back territory from the ISIS Caliphate and captured thousands of ISIS prisoners. Kurds and smaller ethnic groups now had a place to live safely, and away from Syrian control and repression.
So having developed and executed a formula that worked, Trump, the military genius, blew it up in one phone call. Why would any country want to work with the United States and a President who so callously betrays his partners? The damage he’s done to the United States is immeasurable.
Trump the Stable Genius
On Wednesday Trump said our Kurdish allies are “not angels” and U.S. troops shouldn’t be losing their lives along the Turkish-Syrian border because “it’s not our border.” He then declared his actions were “strategically brilliant.” Later he spoke disparagingly about the Kurds suggesting they were fairly compensated for their effort. As if that was their motivation. Trump is so self-impressed about his grasp of the situation, he has no idea how totally uninformed he is.
Trump threatened and cajoled his good friend Recep in a letter so infantile that Recep threw it in the garbage. So Trump sent the two Mikes—Pence and Pompeo—to Ankara where Erdoğan benevolently met with them. They obtained a five-day ceasefire—or pause —after which no sanctions on Turkey will be imposed. The Kurds are expected to withdraw and allow Turkey to set a 20-mile zone south of the border. What a negotiation! Trump was played again. He gave Turkey everything it wanted in Syria and removal of sanctions, too. We got nothing.
Erdoğan is to meet with Putin in five days so we’ll have to wait to see what Putin decides about this arrangement. Nonetheless, Trump feels good about the deal and states that it’s a great day for civilization. I don’t think the Kurds would agree, nor would most Americans. On Thursday Trump added to America’s shame. He said, “In fairness” to Turkey, they had to have Kurds living along their border “cleaned out.” Imagine, the President of the United States supporting genocide.
The House has passed a bipartisan resolution condemning Trump’s action by a vote of 354-60 with more than 2/3 of Republicans voting in the affirmative. Senator Ron Paul blocked a vote in the Senate, though Moscow Mitch McConnell has indicated he wants a stronger resolution of condemnation. Will Moscow Mitch follow through?
In the weeks and months ahead we’ll learn more about the damage Trump has caused America. We’ll continue to ponder the question, whose side is Trump really on?
I suspect the reader will now understand why I said that former Cabinet Secretaries who referred to Trump as a moron and an idiot overrated him.