Chaos spreads from Trump's Syria move

We would have expected that all the years of precarious diplomacy, the blunders as well as the lifesaving missions, the uneasy alliances and, frankly, inconsistent U.S. policy, would have been enough reason not to mess with the delicate balance that had finally narrowed the warring in Syria.

Maybe for most people; not for President Donald Trump. Instead, he ordered U.S. troops out of northern Syria, essentially inviting Turkey to attack along the border. Turkey immediately launched its attack on positions held by the Kurds, until last week the fighting partners of the United States against the Islamic State. 

After discussions with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Thursday an agreement had been reached to suspend military operations in Syria for 120 hours "for the terrorists to leave," meaning the Kurds. It appeared to be an ultimatum the Kurds were unlikely to heed, providing Turkey and Trump with the excuse they had tried.

Why would the president put the U.S. in the position of begging Turkey not to slaughter forces that had fought alongside ours?

Did he see an advantage for the United States in getting out? Perhaps he saw something to be gained, but it wasn't to benefit this country, which now bears the international brand of a quitter, an ally not to be trusted. Worse, he opened up a priceless opportunity for Russia, which stormed in to fill the power vacuum

So yes, there is an advantage, but it is not ours. It may have belonged briefly to Turkey, which ferociously targeted civilians as well as Kurdish fighters, creating a humanitarian crisis. ISIS will gain from the escape of 1,000 fighters − so far − who had been held by the Kurds. The danger they will present to U.S. interests abroad and at home could be grave. And who knows what an empowered Iran might do?

However, inescapably and probably irretrievably, the lasting advantage goes to the president's much-admired Vladimir Putin.

The game is in Russia's court now, thanks to the inhumane, impolitic, nonstrategic move by Donald Trump. Recognizing the president's folly, the House of Representatives voted Wednesday, 354-60, to condemn his actions. He continued to defend his decision, repeating several times that the Kurds are "no angels," and getting into a name-calling confrontation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Russia has been involved in the Syrian civil war for about four years, with air support for Bashar Assad's forces, the despotic Syrian leader. How ruthless is Putin, the man to which Trump has now ceded more influence? As documented by the New York Times by way of impressive reporting, Russian planes intentionally and systematically bombed several Syrian hospitals to crush the rebel forces opposed to Assad − a war crime.

The ouster of Assad was once a hoped-for goal of President Obama's administration. But hope is not a good foreign policy. And when ISIS became the far bigger threat, U.S. attention turned from Assad. With Kurdish forces leading the fight on the ground, aided by U.S. air support, the Islamic State fighters were defeated in Syria. 

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, ignored President Trump's afterthought request not to run rampant against the Kurds with U.S.-supplied weaponry once the Americans pulled out. It appears Putin's plan is either to serve as the great reconciler in the Middle East or to put his own people in charge when all the combatant sides have mortally wounded each other.

In rapidly changing scenarios this week, Russian military police have been patroling a zone that has been serving as a small buffer between the Turks and the Kurds. Doctors Without Borders has had to pull out of the region, ending the lifeline of medical care and even water to thousands.

None of this has sat well with the U.S. military. They did their sworn duty and pulled out as ordered by the commander-in-chief. But it's not what they would have advised; it's not what American soldiers would expect to do.

President Trump, who told the United Nations General Assembly a few weeks ago that "the future does not belong to globalists" and that nations must take care of themselves first, has certainly proved that he meant it.

It is a badly misguided approach. For all its flaws, U.S. global outreach over the past 75 years has contributed to a more democratic, market-driven world, lifting billions out of poverty and avoiding another world war.

Our nation's retreat is a victory for totalitarianism.

Did Trump not foresee the consequences of his rash action, or is he so hellbent on his notion of "America First" that he would willingly pass the Syrian baton to Putin? Trump has traded away America's role as superpower seeking stability through diplomacy, self-rule, free markets and military strength.

What we have lost by this is immense.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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