President Donald Trump shocked Washington with an abrupt decision to unilaterally withdraw from Syria after a phone call with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Though initially only 50 troops, it has now grown to 1,000, as it appears the U.S. is in full retreat from Syria.
Some would say that 50 troops could not have been doing much, but it was backed up with naval and air power if needed in the region. Besides, if one would attack the small U.S. contingency it would inevitably bring more firepower. In a sense, it was acting as a stabilizing force in the region for any escalation in the conflict.
Some would argue that this may be a diversion from Trump’s impeachment issues – it is working if this was the plan. Still, others would say that this is an attempt to fulfill his campaign promise of ending the “forever wars.” It is quite strange to see those pacifists criticize a president that is pulling out of a war when they have been crying for an end to the Middle East “forever wars” for some time now. In any case, the Middle East is a graveyard for many politicians when getting their hands dirty in the region. News Forecasters asks, forget impeachment, could Syria be the Trump demise?
Immediately upon Trump’s initial decision to withdraw from Syria, members of his own party lash out at Trump in disagreement. Many of the U.S. allies as well were blindsided. This is exemplified when the daughter of now-deceased Senator John McCain said, “Trump has blood on their hands over the Syrian withdrawal.” There is a belief that the U.S. has backstabbed the Kurdish people by greenlighting the Turkish invasion of Nothern Syria where the Kurds are in control. The Kurds did help the U.S. in the defeat of ISIS that Trump proudly proclaims frequently. Trump made a flippant remark that the Kurds weren’t that much of an ally as they weren’t like an ally in WWII – though not entirely true.
Here is the problem. It is clear to News Forecasters that Trump made the decision on a gut feeling. Even if a correct policy, because he failed to properly get leaders in the Congress and leaders from other allies on board with the decision, the decision came with swift rebuke. Politicians are crafty, they know that anything in the Middle East comes with risk – better to be a back seat driver in case the whole plan ends up in calamity. If it does end in calamity, Trump owns it solely, and it was done by himself solely. Impetuous narcissism may have gotten the better of Trump – we knew this was bound to happen.
Getting back to the specifics of the conflict, just what are the goals of Turkey with this incursion? For one, Turkey has long complained about the terrorist activities of the Kurds in their search for a homeland. The more immediate concern is what to do about the 3.6 million refugees in Turkey today. Most of the 3.6 million Syrians in Turkey are from Sunni Arab areas in western Syria, not the mainly Kurdish northeast.
The goal of Turkey is to carve out a safe zone for them (see inset chart), so he can dump them back over the border into Syria. Remember the EU is giving Turkey huge amounts of aid (€6bn) to take care of these refugees. Moving huge numbers of refugees into an area hundreds of miles from their homes would involve a drastic demographic shift. Are there enough hotels, apartments, or tents to house them? One would imagine the aid would still have to flow to maintain the refugee camps. In any case, Turkey creates issues for the Kurds in Syria while maintaining control and the flow of aid money.
Trump is backpedaling on his decision. Trump called Turkey’s president to demand Erdogan to halt the country’s incursion into Syria and enact an immediate ceasefire – many other allies are saying the same thing. The Pentagon said that the U.S. does not endorse a Turkish operation in Northern Syria and that U.S. troops would not support or be involved in such an operation. But what did you expect from the initial announcement? Trump has now even levied sanctions against Turkey. But it may be too late, the train has left the station. Was it so hard to see the events we see today on the ground occurring?
Then there is the issue of Erdogan and Turkey – a NATO ally. Can Erdogan be trusted? Recently the U.S. State and Energy Department officials were quietly reviewing plans for evacuating roughly 50 tactical nuclear weapons that the U.S. had long stored, under American control, at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, about 250 miles from the Syrian border. Those weapons, one senior official said, were now essentially Erdogan’s hostages. To fly them out of Incirlik would be to mark the de facto end of the Turkish-American alliance. To keep them there, though, is to perpetuate a nuclear vulnerability that should have been eliminated years ago. Oh dear …
The best thing for Trump at this point would be if Turkey pulls back and the region would return to as before. News Forecasters believes this is unlikely. Turkey, Russia, and Iran have been working for some time on an alliance to counter the U.S. in the region and have a strong influence on events on the ground – though they won’t say publically, they most likely are eager to take advantage of the power vacuum the U.S. has created. And as a footnote did we mention that Iraq may also be imploding?
In Trump’s pullback from the Syrian border, he is exposing U.S. Kurdish allies to a Turkish NATO ally invasion. It is hard to support two fighting allies. Trump now has potentially his own version of Obama’s foolhardy pullout from Iraq that created the opening for the rise of ISIS. Impeachment seems far in the distant rearview mirror. The Republican party and the Trump base are not unified on these developments. But when it comes to impeachment, facts be damned.
If a House impeachment vote comes or even a Senate trial this disunification on the Syrian issue may bleed through. It will depend on events on the ground in Syria – it could spin out of control easily. In fairness to Trump, the Middle East is a treacherous region for any leader and it is easy to criticize. If Syria implodes it could spell trouble for Trump. News Forecasters puts this risk at nearly 20%, up from a 5% chance. Trump is safe for now.
A video presentation of this subject: