Donald Trump’s impetuous, bizarre and dodgy decision to pull 2000 or so troops out of northeastern Syria after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be by far the biggest blunder of his tenure — and that’s a high bar to top. Trump claimed the Islamic State is basically defeated, another of his myriad lies, given the fact that the U.S. military conducted, on average, 30 airstrikes per day against ISIS targets in December alone and more than 10,000 Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces troops are still battling the Islamic State on the ground.
In the face of this fiasco, Defense Secretary, and retired Marine Corps general, James Mattis had every right to resign and issue one of the most strident resignation letters on record. Now with him and chief of staff and former general John Kelly gone, there’s only one general left in the administration: Mayhem.
To top off Trump’s defective decision and decision-making, Brett McGurk, a Barack Obama appointee tasked with coordinating the Defeat-ISIS coalition of over 70 countries and international organizations, is also resigning. Astonishingly, Trump didn’t even know who McGurk was, raising questions about his competence to even make such a dreadful move.
The irresponsibility of Trump’s decision aside, I’m appalled at how Republicans and Fox News pundits, who all know better, are conflating Trump’s precipitous action with Obama’s responses to the Iraqi drawdown and the Syrian chemical weapon “red line.”
First Iraq: The stage was set for the U.S. withdrawal by Dec. 31, 2011, not by President Obama but by George W. Bush, in 2008. The calamitous and illegitimate war had raged for five years, primarily becoming a civil war between the new Shia-majority government and disgruntled Sunni rebels while the Islamic State’s caliphate was still but a fantasy.
Obama attempted to leave a residual force of 5,000 troops but failed to reach agreement with an Iranian-influenced Iraqi government over immunity protections for U.S. forces as is required for American military stationed abroad. And whatever the wisdom of the withdrawal, planning, preparation and coordination with allies took place over three years not as a midnight whim. (The fact that Trump is now slow-walking the extraction is further proof of the rashness of the decision.)
As to Obama’s unfortunate red line phrasing threatening Syria with retaliation if it deployed chemical weapons, the Republican House was overwhelmingly opposed as were the American people and NATO allies. So instead of escalating American involvement in an unpopular war, he worked out a deal with Russia to remove the chemicals subsequently keeping us out of another major Middle East war.
The campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, while making substantial progress since Obama launched it in 2014, is not over by a long shot. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in Iraq and the SDF in Syria have done most of the fighting and dying – Syrian Kurds and their Arab allies alone have suffered about 4,000 dead and 10,000 wounded. (As of March, the U.S. had lost only five servicemen in Syria.) That they are now under threat of annihilation by Erdogan is an immoral betrayal by America. Who will ever trust us again?