NOTE: Middle East Eye just published my account of a disturbing interview with Israeli Internal Security Minister, Gilad Erdan, in which he declares that Israel will topple the current status quo at the Haram al Sharif. Erdan also intimates that Israel plans to rebuild the Temple, thus implying that the holy mosques would be in danger.
Since Trump’s decision to withdraw 1,000 U.S. troops from Syria and abandon our former Kurdish allies who helped us destroy ISIS, U.S. security policy in the region is in deep crisis. Essentially, the U.S. president agreed to permit Turkey to invade Syria and establish a border zone controlling a large swath of the country’s territory on its northern border.
Ostensibly, Pres. Erdogan said his goal was to eliminate what he called “Kurdish terrorists.” But in fact, he is a political leader facing increasing opposition at home, including the loss of two recent critical elections. Turkey’s economy is also in recession due to his reckless overborrowing and overspending on lavish public works projects like his 100-room Ottoman palace.
Just as with Israeli leaders like Netanyahu seeking to save their political careers, Erdogan sees a military adventure as just the ticket to unite the nation. The mission is of secondary importance, if of any importance at all.
In such situations, when a country pursues aggressive, destablizing military adventures it is critical that other nations come forward and restrain such recklessness. However, at this delicate juncture, Trump has abandoned Syria. He has not only left the Kurds to fend for themselves, he has unmoored U.S. global foreign policy. No country anywhere trusts anything our leaders say or do.
Take Erdogan for example. Trump sent Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo to Ankara to pressure the Turkish leader into a ceasefire. This was only two weeks after Trump himself gave Erdogan a green light to invade. Turkey’s leader refused, at first, to see Trump’s emissaries at all. If he would see anyone, he declared, it would be Trump himself.
He was right to say this because the word of a U.S. official isn’t worth a nickel, given that Trump himself can countermand it with a single tweet. And as Erdogan can see, even a commitment from Trump himself isn’t worth anything, as he changes his mind from minute to minute. In the past few hours, the Turkish leader has relented and agreed to see Pence and Pompeo. But it’s hard to see what good can be accomplished. Likely, Erdogan will spend the time lambasting the two as lackeys for their unstable, untrustworthy boss.
Trump’s erratic nature can be seen in the insulting letter I display here, which he wrote as a follow-up to his original phone call with Erdogan. It mixes fawning praise with vague threats, and adds insults (“history will look upon you forever as the devil…”) that would surely enrage a proud nationalist like Erdogan.
In all the coverage of this disastrous letter, no one is focusing on Trump betraying the confidence of a former U.S. ally, the Kurds, by sharing a confidential letter from General Mazloum, their military leader. The Kurds are Turkey’s sworn enemy. In international diplomacy, you simply don’t share such communications. Doing so betrays the negotiating strategy of the Kurds, thus giving Turkey an advantage in any ceasefire talks. Further, that letter is a U.S. national security document. It is meant to be secret and protected. As Trump has done with the Russians and others, he has betrayed U.S. national security secrets to adversaries blithely and indiscriminately. This is certainly an impeachable offense.
As we enter Trump’s 1,000th day in office, looking back over the past three years Americans voiced fears that Trump could start a nuclear war or launch some other ill-advised adventure that could lead to catastrophe. Until now, these fears were vague and imprecise. But what he did in Syria is the realization of this nightmare. Turkey has invaded Syria. Turkish militia have summarily executed Kurdish political leaders. Scores, if not hundreds have died. Russia has warned Turkey to accept a ceasefire and is moving its troops into position to rebuff the Turkish advance, if necessary. Syrian forces are moving to retake territory the regime hasn’t controlled in a decade or more.
Everything is in flux in a country which sits on a powder keg of competing national interests and armies. The very reason we supposedly entered Syria, to overthrow ISIS, has been thrown to the winds. ISIS didn’t just disappear. It still exists. In fact, a thousand ISIS prisoners escaped from Kurdish captivity because their captors were needed to defend against the Turkish invasion. Where do we think those escapees will go? What will they do? Regroup of course, and plot their resurgence. In a few months or years, the world will face the same problem Trump grandly declared eliminated only a few months ago.
Remember the talk about Trump’s collusion with Russia to win the 2016 election? Now anyone who suggests that Trump colluded with Erdogan to bring a Syrian-Russian victory will have quite a credible argument. Until now, Russia was our adversary in Syria. Assad was our enemy as well. Now, they have won a tremendous victory without firing a single shot. All thanks to Trump.
Putin is no fool. He understands that Trump has offered him a golden Tiffany egg. The Russian leader has happily stepped into that void. Russian by default has become the most powerful player in Syria. What remains to be seen is how the competing forces will realign. The Kurds have forged a new alliance with Russia and Syria against the Turkish invaders. Will Russia redeploy those forces it used in the battle on behalf of Assad as recently as a few years ago? Will Russia confront Turkey militarily? Or do so through proxies like the Kurds? Will Russia take the U.S.’s place and supply the Kurds with the weapons and air cover they need to fight back against the Turks? Given that Syrian forces are now on their way to fight against the Turks it appears quite possible Russia might enter the fray as well, either directly or via supplying arms and materiel needed for the fight.
All this because Trump is a lunatic running our country like it’s his personal insane asylum.