Conor Friedersdorf: Trump’s Middle East policy is a fraud
Their surrender in effect ends the Syrian civil war with Assad as its victor, Russia as its beneficiary, and the United States one of its losers. The cost of getting any cooperation from potential partners in future conflicts has skyrocketed. The U.S. also accrued both shame and humiliation; we’ve broken our promises, and Russian troops are posting videos of themselves taking over deserted U.S. bases.
Trump pretends not to care, tweeting, “Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte. I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!” Which sounds an awful lot like green-lighting Turkey’s invasion. (And by the way, Osama bin Laden was 7,000 miles away, too.)
The price of this latest reckless and destructive folly is dawning on the White House, though: Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper all tried to mop up the mess by denying reality—flatly rejecting that the president had okayed the invasion.
When those efforts didn’t stanch the bleeding of the administration’s credibility, the White House dispatched Pence and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien to Ankara to try to find a face-saving solution. Esper will go to Brussels “to press our other NATO allies to take collective and individual diplomatic and economic measures in response to these egregious Turkish actions.”
Peter Wehner: Trump betrayed the Kurds. He couldn’t help himself.
America’s NATO allies are aghast at Turkey’s brutality, but they also consider U.S. actions egregious. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said, “President Trump doesn’t seem to have opposed the operation the Turks are carrying out today, even though much firmer positions are being asserted today.”
It is important for U.S. troops and for the U.S. public to hear the Pentagon’s civilian leader explain military policies. And Esper, to his credit, isn’t hiding from the media. But the contortions he’s performing to justify the president’s decisions are painful to watch: “To be clear, we are not abandoning our Kurdish partner forces,” he told reporters, “and U.S. troops remain with them in other parts of Syria. The impulsive action of President Erdoğan to invade northern Syria has put the United States in a tough situation."
Both the president and Esper make it sound as though there were no alternatives to either fighting a two-front war against both Syria and Turkey or completely withdrawing U.S. forces. This is the kind of straw man that made Republicans scoff at President Barack Obama and his acolytes, when they suggested they had to either abandon Iraq or avoid Syria. There is a wider range of choices available than doing nothing or landing an invasion force at Normandy, to use Trump’s favorite test of allied worth.