Shortly after speaking to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday, Donald Trump endorsed a Turkish incursion into Syria. “Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into northern Syria,” the White House said in a statement. “The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”
This was an elliptical way of announcing that America was abandoning its Kurdish allies to their fate. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces had played a leading role in retaking northeastern Syria from ISIS. Since then, they had assumed guardianship of thousands of ISIS prisoners and established a nascent socialist society in the newly autonomous region (in an odd coincidence, the contemporary Kurdish version of socialism, like the American one, derives from the teachings of an eccentric Vermonter).
The Kurds in Syria have maintained ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging a separatist insurgency in Turkey for decades. For this reason, Erdogan regards the emergence of a Kurdish society on his nation’s border as an intolerable security threat. Turkey’s “long-planned operation into northern Syria” is a long-planned operation to destroy America’s staunchest (and most progressive) allies in the war on ISIS.
Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds provoked an extraordinarily broad backlash with America’s European allies, Pentagon officials, State Department aides, Democratic and Republican congressional leaders, Liz Cheney, and the editorial board of Jacobin all united in opposition to the move. The president produced a variety of contradictory defenses in response. On Monday, he said, “The United States does not endorse [Turkey’s] attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea.” Then, on Twitter, Trump made a tacit case for letting Turkey have its way in northeast Syria on the grounds that the country has been such a swell ally; shortly thereafter, he warned he would “totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey” if Erdogan’s government did “anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits.”
As Turkish media began airing bombings of border towns on Wednesday and the Syrian Democratic Forces reported airstrikes on civilian areas, some wondered whether such bloodshed was within the limits imposed by Trump’s wisdom. But a senior adviser to Erdogan told CNN Wednesday afternoon that it was, saying, “President Trump and President Erdogan have reached an understanding over precisely what this operation is.”
In a subsequent press conference, Trump did not contradict that claim. Although the president had threatened to destroy the Turkish economy if Turkey were to “wipe out” the Kurds, he expressed fatalism about the day’s violence. Of the Turks and Kurds, Trump said, “They’ve wanted to fight, and that’s the way it is.”
The president went on to offer the faintest possible praise of our erstwhile allies.
When asked about the threat that ISIS fighters will use the Turkish invasion as an opportunity to escape from Kurdish prisons, Trump assured the American people that the terrorists would merely descend upon Europe.
It is worth noting amid all this that our president has a multimillion-dollar personal interest in maintaining the favor of Turkey’s government (although we do not know the precise value of his business partnerships in Istanbul because he will not let us see his tax returns).
Almost makes one wonder whether Trump is actually fit for the extraordinary responsibilities of his office.