President Donald Trump’s bizarre behavior on the world stage has become a growing security threat to our country.
His recklessness and immorality, as displayed by his Syria debacle, prove him unfit to make foreign policy or protect our republic. His greenlight for Turkish war crimes against our Kurdish allies has shamed America. And Vice President Pence’s “cease-fire” deal with Ankara was a shameful sham, giving Turkey the greenlight to drive hundreds of thousands more Kurdish civilians out of their homeland.
But Trump’s precipitous Syria withdrawal reveals something even more unnerving than a betrayal of American values — and interests. It reveals a disconnect from reality that should frighten us all.
The president has spouted uninformed, untrue nonsense about the Kurds, about Syria and Turkey, about the role of the U.S. military or the strategic consequences of his sudden retreat from Syria.
This disconnect from reality makes him easy prey for autocrats, whom he prefers to American allies. He accepted at face value the lies fed him by Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as he’s accepted lies from Vladimir Putin.
In a masterpiece of self-delusion, as Kurds fled for their lives from Turkish attack, Trump crowed, in Texas: “It’s a great day for the Kurds. Great day for civilization.” And praised Erdogan as “a hell of a leader.” He’ll lead America into more overseas debacles given the chance.
Just consider the ignorance about Syria that Trump has displayed.
Who are the Syrian Kurds?The president has defamed our Kurdish allies as “terrorists” and “communists” and “no angels.” This is clearly language fed to him by Erdogan. If Trump had listened to military briefers, he’d know that the U.S. military considers Kurdish fighters to be important allies, not terrorists (even though they were an offshoot of the Turkish Kurdish rebel group, the PKK, many years ago).
Contrary to Erdogan’s claims, Syrian Kurdish forces didn’t fire across the Syrian border at Turkey before the invasion. The Syrian Kurdish heartland (which I have visited) has a fascinating system of local governance, with high literacy. The Syrian Kurds espouse equal participation of women as political and military leaders. And they don’t seek an independent state (which Turkey might see as a threat) but rather want regional autonomy within Syria.
Why is Turkey invading?Again, the president spouts fact-free nonsense, saying this is a battle between Syria and Turkey “over land.” Trump also claims Erdogan will fight the Islamic State inside Syria.
In reality, Erdogan seeks to drive hundreds of thousands of Syrian Kurds out of their main cities, which lie within the 20-mile buffer zone he is seizing inside Syria. He then wants to replace the Kurds with Syrian Arab refugees now living inside Turkey, including many Islamist groups. Trump’s “great day for the Kurds” is a huzzah for Turkish ethnic cleansing.
As for Turkey fighting IS or guarding IS prisoners, that won’t happen. The Turks helped IS by letting its fighters cross their border freely, even as the Kurds lost 11,000 men and women while defeating IS.
US troops there?Trump claims they were there to fight “endless wars.” He says he’s preventing tens of thousands of casualties by their sudden withdrawal. In reality the opposite is true. U.S. special forces provided support for the Kurds, without whose help the United States would have had to send tens of thousands of fighters. The small residual U.S. troop presence was preventing endless war by helping Kurds avoid an IS resurgence.
One more point: If Trump had kept 50 U.S. troops on the border, Erdogan would not have invaded. So, yes, the president gave Turkey a greenlight.
The president’s disconnect from reality is deeply troubling to the U.S. military. It was humiliating for them to retreat in such a rushed fashion, having to bomb their headquarters so Russian or Syrian troops wouldn’t seize their weapons. Russian TV is full of jokes about America’s precipitous flight.
U.S. commanders are also distraught at Trump’s betrayal of our Kurdish allies and his green light for ethnic cleansing. “If our promises (to allies) are meaningless, how will our allies ever trust us?” asked retired Adm. William McRaven, former head of U.S. special Operations command, in a scathing New York Times op-ed.
Men and women of all political persuasions who have served our country “have seen our leaders stand beside despots and strongmen, preferring their government narrative to our own,” wrote McRaven. “They have seen us abandon our allies and have heard the shouts of betrayal from the battlefield.” One retired four-star general told him: “I don’t like the Democrats but Trump is destroying the republic!”
If this president doesn’t understand the values of duty and honor, of promises to allies and faith in America’s principles, “it is time for a new person in the Oval Office,” wrote McRaven.
Given Trump’s disconnect from reality, the sooner he is gone from the Oval Office the better, before he inflicts more foreign policy wounds.
Rubin writes for the Philadelphia Inquirer: firstname.lastname@example.org.