Trump's abandonment of the Kurds to Turkey may be his undoing
President Donald Trump shocked the world this week when he gave a green light to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to invade Northern Syria as US forces move out of the way, knowing all too well that Erdogan’s plan is to massacre the Kurds.
This decision has been a turning point for Trump’s presidency and drawn widespread condemnation across party lines.
Erdogan made his intentions regarding the Kurds of Syria clear to both Trump and the rest of the world.
In June this year, Trump said: “(Erdogan) had a 65000-man army at the border, and he was going to wipe out the Kurds, who helped us with Isis (Islamic State).” And he later continued: “I called him and I asked him not to do it And he didn’t do it.”
Four months later, Trump has made a complete about-turn.
The Turkish state under Erdogan’s leadership has openly pursued internal and external political strategies aimed at the elimination of the Kurds.
There’s no question that Erdogan will now implement his long-awaited assault on the very Kurdish forces who successfully helped the Americans to fight Isis. The Kurdish fighters, who are part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), have been the US’s most reliable partner in fighting the Islamic State in a strategic corner of northern Syria.
What Trump has now decided on a whim is to abandon US allies, with the result that many will be massacred, and US regional enemies will be emboldened.
Trump’s former Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, a loyal Trump supporter, has now added her voice to the furore against Trump’s decision.
“We must always have the backs of our allies if we expect them to have our back,” she wrote on Twitter.
“The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against Isis in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake. #TurkeyIsNotOurFriend.”
Senator Mitt Romney, one of the most influential and respected figures in the Republican party today, echoed those sentiments, saying: “The president’s decision to abandon our Kurdish allies in the face of an assault by Turkey is a betrayal. It says that America is an unreliable ally, it facilitates Isis resurgence, and it presages another humanitarian disaster.”
These are potent words coming from the former Massachusetts governor, and the Republican Party’s nominee for president in the 2012 elections. Romney is considered an elder statesman who has the ability to influence elections more than any other elected official or other leader on the right.
Until the Ukraine scandal broke, Romney’s criticism of Trump had been tepid, but there’s now a good chance Romney could lead some of the Republicans in Congress to join him in calling for Trump’s removal. Trump may have taken one step too far for Republican stalwarts.
The Kurds feel betrayed by the Americans, who convinced them to remove fortifications and combat forces along the Turkish border as part of a “security mechanism”. That demilitarisation will now allow Turkey to move in without much of a fight.
A consequence of a Turkish onslaught will also likely be the freeing of 11000 Isis detainees held in 30 detention facilities by Kurdish forces.
Republican heavyweight Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader and one of Trump’s staunchest advocates in the Senate, has also taken a public stand against his decision.
“I urge the president to exercise American leadership and maintain the American deployment in Syria.”
McConnell reminded Trump of a Senate vote in January where the US Congress rebuked him over a planned US withdrawal.
One by one, Republican heavy- hitters are lining up against President. Trump ally Lindsay Graham, outspoken chairperson of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, has blasted Trump’s decision, saying it’s a “disaster in the making”. Graham says he will introduce a non-binding resolution, asking Trump to reconsider his move, which he called “short-sighted and irresponsible”.
“The president’s assertion that the Islamic State has been defeated is the biggest lie being told by this administration,” Graham said.
“I’ll do everything I can to sanction Turkey if they step one foot into north-eastern Syria. That will sever my relationship with Turkey. I think most of Congress feels that way.”
Under fire in the hot seat, Trump’s response to this criticism is both shocking and laughable. The best he could muster on Twitter was: “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”.
The only hope for the Kurds now is for the groundswell of opposition to Trump’s decision to become so fierce, so quickly, that the military onslaught already begun by Turkish forces against the Kurds will be thwarted.
* Ebrahim is the Independent Group Foreign Editor.