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It is a sign of just how delicate the Middle East is that President Trump’s impulsive decision to withdraw a few hundred American troops from northeastern Syria has unleashed a whirlwind of consequences, none of them good for the United States.

syrian withdrawal

Typically, for him, he had a one-on-one conversation with President Erdoğan of Turkey, who continued to press for Trump’s approval of a planned Turkish incursion into the Kurdish region of northeast Syria. Erdoğan regards all Kurds, whether Turkish or not, as terrorists who threaten the security of Turkey. The previous administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama had forged a working alliance with the Syrian Kurds to fight against the Islamic State (IS) and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, so they quite sensibly refused to abandon their most reliable allies in Syria.

The US has turned its back on faithful Kurdish allies who have done most of the fighting and dying in the fight against IS. This obviously will cause others we are allied with around the world to question the reliability of US support.

But Trump, who’s never met an autocrat he doesn’t like (except for those few who won’t play his game, like Maduro in Venezuela), blindsided his national security team by immediately ordering the evacuation of the troops that stood in Erdoğan’s way. We have seen the bloody results in the last few days, and we will surely see more. It has become so dangerous to the remaining US troops in Syria that Trump has ordered them all withdrawn.

So, the US has turned its back on faithful Kurdish allies who have done most of the fighting and dying in the fight against IS. This obviously will cause others we are allied with around the world to question the reliability of US support. Our credibility as a great power takes a major hit.

What has followed from this act of treachery? Syria’s main strategic significance for the US is that it serves as a beachhead for Iranian influence, and no American president back to Jimmy Carter has been comfortable with revolutionary Iran. President al-Assad is closely allied with and dependent on Iran. The first response of the Syrian Kurds to Trump’s abandonment was to strike a deal with Assad’s government, opening the way for Syrian government troops to move into Kurdish territory. The Kurds have switched sides, strengthening Assad and the Iranians.

The deal was struck at a Russian airbase. Vladimir Putin is also allied with Assad, for Syria represents Russia’s main toehold in the Middle East. In addition to the airbase they also have a naval base. By strengthening al-Assad and Iran, Trump has also helped Russia.

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The main reason the US has been in Syria at all was to combat IS, but the Kurds have responded to his betrayal by allowing the IS fighters and their families to go free. IS is back in business.

Trump has famously claimed he is an “incredibly stable genius,” but it didn’t take a genius to realize that these consequences would follow from his impulsive decision. Multiple advisers warned him against doing it, but in the end all he could think about was getting out of “endless wars.” He has thus forfeited the leverage the US had in Syria. He has given IS a new lease on life. He has strengthened the alliance of Russia, Iran and Syria.

His only ally now is Erdoğan, who seems bent on committing a major act of ethnic cleansing against the Kurds. Trump can choose whether to enable that ethnic cleansing, or fulfill his threat to impose sanctions on Turkey. If he does the former, he will be a war criminal. If he does the latter, he won’t have any allies in the Middle East—except the murderous Saudi Arabian regime.

Turkey is having this turkey for dinner.

The moderate internationalists in the US (most Democrats and a dwindling band of Republicans) now find themselves agreeing with the neoconservatives like Dick Cheney that Trump has committed a disastrously costly blunder. His base is still with him, but an astonishing number of Republican senators and representatives have nonetheless come out to condemn him. It cannot be helpful to him as the impeachment inquiry proceeds.

impeachment unavoidable

In Moscow, his good friend Vladimir Putin hoists his vodka in a contemptuous toast to the President of the United States.

John Peeler