The United States is, yet again, facing an unnecessary crisis of its own making. On October 6, Donald Trump decided, during a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to withdraw U.S. military forces from northern Syria. And not for the first time. Erdoğan persuaded Trump to withdraw U.S. forces during a phone call back in mid-December 2018. In response, then–Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned in protest. Under bipartisan pressure, Trump agreed to keep a reduced number of troops in the region.
But this time was different. Instead of reversing course in the face of bipartisan criticism, Trump doubled down. The same day that he publicly announced his decision, Trump tweeted that an American troop presence was unnecessary to protect the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) or prevent Islamic State fighters from escaping confinement, because “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 (I’ve done before!).”
Now the fears of his critics are coming to fruition. The instability created by the Turkish incursion into Syria—involving both the Turkish military and its proxies—has allowed ISIS fighters to escape. Images of executions and other alleged atrocities are circulating on social media. The SDF, desperate for partners capable of helping it fend off the Turkish advance, has formed an alliance with Russia and the Syrian government. On Thursday, the U.S. helped block a United Nations Security Council statement condemning the Turkish operation. On Friday, Turkish artillery landed near American forces. On Saturday, Trump ordered the total evacuation of U.S. troops from northern Syria. NBC News reported that “the decision to move troops out was largely because Turkish military and proxy force” had cut off American supply lines, and the likelihood of U.S. troops being drawn into the conflict was high.