President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria, abandoning the Kurds who fought shoulder-to-shoulder with American soldiers against ISIS was a disgrace that no amount of “alternative facts” can hide. There are any number of terrible consequences for this sudden and ill-considered move: a rising death toll for Kurdish forces, a strengthening of despot Syrian President Bashar Assad, another victory for Russia President Vladimir Putin and a loss of U.S. standing in the Middle East and the rest of the world as allies must wonder where else will President Trump decide to cut and run.
But above all else, it is clearly not a decision that has made the Kurds “much safer right now” as Mr. Trump claimed Wednesday.
“We have a lot of great people over there; we’ll see," the president told reporters while talking up negotiations. "In the meantime, our soldiers are not in harm’s way, as they shouldn’t be as two countries fight over land that has nothing to do with us. And the Kurds are much safer right now. But the Kurds know how to fight.”
The various deflections, denials and other antics President Trump has engaged in this past week to justify his capitulation to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan can’t sugarcoat the circumstances. Nor can the five-day ceasefire negotiated Thursday by Vice President Mike Pence — a small break in the violence Mr. Trump himself ushered in.
The president’s efforts to spin the situation fall flat. “There’s lots of sand that they can play with," he said in an apparent effort to signal that we should all be indifferent to what’s happening in Syria. The Kurds are “no angels,” he claims, just to rub salt in a former ally’s wounds, one supposes. And then there was the release of his letter to President Erdogan, which appears to have been written for a third grade social studies class. “History ... will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen,” he wrote in the Oct. 9 missive signing off with a familiar “I will call you later.” The Turkish president is reported to have tossed it in the trash.
Whether the president wants to accuse House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of hysteria (“Pray for her, she is a very sick person!” he tweeted) or claim Syria is unimportant or that U.S. troops can’t “police” the world, it’s clear the pullout-on-a-whim had little support from the nation’s military or its diplomats or his own party’s elected leaders. The rebuke by House Republicans alone — with 129 GOP members voting with the Democrats to condemn the withdrawal 354-60 — was a stunning setback for a president relying on party loyalty to protect him from ongoing impeachment proceedings.
Many Americans feel deep shame over the U.S. retreat from Syria, and it’s a costly hole that President Trump keeps digging deeper and deeper. No temporary cease-fire is going to reverse the harm that has already taken place. Calling his “policy” move “strategically brilliant” doesn’t make it any more palatable. Such bizarre behavior only suggests that it isn’t impeachment but perhaps the 25th Amendment that deserves to be invoked right about now.