DC DISPATCH-Last week, the White House shed its sole adult member of management, General Mattis, who resigned in principle over President Trump’s premature decision to remove U.S. presence in Syria.
His letter of resignation left a scathing rebuke of Trump’s Foreign Policy and its pattern of alienating traditional allies to the benefit of historical foes. Without the military wind and lift beneath the wings of this Presidency, it is bound for a high-altitude stall.
The current American presence in Syria includes two thousand special forces officers who have been arming and counseling multiple factions in the conflict. Also included is American airpower which many have argued has been more effective than the reach of the special forces.
Though originally deployed to Syria to assist in the war against the Islamic state, American presence has also established a "buffer zone", keeping bitter rivals Turkey and Kurds (YPG) apart. So why did our supersonic President make such a major decision to withdraw from Syria over the objection of his Secretary of Defense and military generals?
It has been suggested that the impulsive decision came on the heels of a conversation between Presidents Erdogan and Trump. Erdogan claimed that ISIS was "99% defeated" and that the U.S. presence was no longer necessary. Trump was all too eager to comply with the whims of the mercurial dictator without examining the unintended consequences of the move.
Trump immediately seized on Erdogan’s claim of ISIS being 99% eradicated. We should remember former “Vice” Cheney's warning about the One Percent Doctrine, which states that if there is a 1% probability of a terrorist event occurring, it should be treated as a certainty in terms of a response. For Trump to so easily declare victory against ISIS is a guaranteed prescription for failure when that group reconfigures itself and reemerges.
So what force is underlying the new phase of the appeasement to Turkey’s national interests at the expense of our own? What did Trump get in return? This is all too suspicious to be a mere distraction from Trump’s troubles at home.
With his terrible record of jailing journalists and nuzzling dissent, Erdogan does fit into Trump's evolving idea of an American ally. But I believe there are other factors driving this, likely Jamal Khashoggi is but the tip of the iceberg.
Back in October 2018, Erdogan was a vocal critic of MBS involvement in the assassination of U.S. resident and Saudi dissident, Jamal Khashoggi. Turkish Intelligence inadvertently revealed its surveillance abilities within the Saudi Consulate by releasing portions of the transcript to foreign leaders and key intelligence officials. Turkey was also responsible for securing a more plausible version of the event from the Saudis. This started with bringing Jamal Khashoggi murderous cries in graphic form to the attention of the media. Yet, for all of the claims of barbarism, Erdogan stopped short of releasing the full transcript of the vicious assault to the public. His once loud calls to hold MBS accountable have all but disappeared along with any objections over MBS overseeing the investigation of MBS.
Trump’s decisions taken in this regard have clearly shown the dependency of America on Saudi Arabia’s support. Either Saudi Arabia has given Turkey something (arms, petrol) to silence them or they have pulled their strings to make Trump dance. Perhaps the new understanding between Saudi Arabia and Russia, sealed with a high five at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, is beginning to show its public face as both countries exert serious pressure on the United States.
The President of the United States is uninterested in global affairs unless it involves an opportunity for leverage and self-benefit. While this military move may appeal to his overly nationalistic base, it woefully fails to protect the interests of the United States over time. The abrupt withdrawal from Syria is a grave mistake and will precipitate a cascade of unanticipated events. The decision should be revisited, and the advice of his generals should be reconsidered.
As U.S. troops evacuate from Manbij, a strategically important town located in Northern Syria, a vacuum has been created that Syrian, Turkish and Russian troops are vying to fill. U.S. forces have occupied and controlled the town since 2016 with the aid of local Kurdish militias whose fate now seems uncertain. Kurdish forces have made public pleas for support of Syria, but it is unclear if the increasing presence of its army, supported by Iran and Russia, will heed its calls for protection or allow Turkey to slaughter the once and former US ally.
After the twice betrayal in Iraq, U.S. troops have now thrice abandoned the Kurds. Absent a logical military strategy for the recent move, it must be viewed as an initiation fee to be paid by Trump for entry into the Dictator’s Club.
Trump prefers to deny, distract and then counterattack when encountered with situations or people who disagree with his positions. In the Khashoggi scandal, he has departed from this normal strategy. Is it because dead men don't make good counterattack targets. His countervailing circles of chaos and denials are laying waste to traditional allies but also to domestic rank and file.
The stabilizing and countervailing forces keeping U.S. foreign policy buoyant have lost their Newtons. Over the past six months, Trump has shed his top three advisors. This experienced, well respected Gang of Adults including General Mattis, General Kelly and General McMaster is now sadly gone.
With its nose pitched up, American foreign policy is in a death spiral as its mach number creeps eerily closer to its stall speed.
(Sara Corcoran is publisher of the National Courts Monitor and writes for CityWatch, Daily Koz, and other news outlets.)