Trump’s Betrayal Causes A Perilous Re-alignment In The Middle East

Oct 26th, 2019 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The United States had been negotiating with Turkey for months to establish a safe zone in the Middle East that would protect both Kurdish and Turkish interests, all the while maintaining the remarkable gains made against the Islamic State (ISIS).  But, to the astonishment of everyone, after a phone call with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Trump ordered US troops to retreat from northern Syria.  Jennifer Griffin of Fox News reported that Trump was supposed to tell Erdogan to stay north of the Syrian border.  When Erdogan made his bully threats, Trump could have stated that US military controls the air above the region and would respond to protect US troops and our allies the Kurds.  Incredibly, Trump agreed to stay out of Turkey’s way as it made war on the Kurds.  The Kurds were loyal allies of the US in the war against ISIS and are probably the primary reason for the defeat of the caliphate.  [Incidentally, contrary to Trump’s condescending remarks that the Kurds (who have no state, but span three Middle Eastern nations) played no role in World War II, some did fight for the liberation of Greece and Albania from the Nazis.]

Jennifer Griffin, in another report on Fox News, spoke to a “distraught” US Special Forces soldier on the ground alongside the Kurdish forces that were about to be abandoned.   The soldier told her “I am ashamed for the first time in my career.  There was no threat to the Turks—none—from this side of the border.  The Kurds had been guarding thousands of ISIS prisoners, had just prevented a prison break and were pleading for US support.  Without it, the ISIS prisoners would soon escape.”  He went on that the President “doesn’t understand the problem. He doesn’t understand the repercussions to this.  The Kurds are standing by us.  No other partner I have ever dealt with would stand by us.”  The Kurds have backed the US since 2003 and fought ISIS since 2011.

After taking quite a bit of heat from both Republicans and Democrats, Trump, reflecting an embarrassing degree of hubris, stated: “If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the economy of Turkey.”  The sanctions that he placed on a few Turkish leaders were on individuals who do not even have any financial dealings in the US.  These sanctions were meaningless.  When VP Pence announced a cease-fire (the Turks refused to call it that; instead calling it a “pause”), Trump lifted these few ineffective sanctions.  There was no demand that Erdogan withdraw his forces; that he stop bombing Kurdish villages; or that he cease the wanton destruction of Kurdish civilians.  (Some 150,000 Kurdish civilians have fled their homes to escape Turkey’s invasion).

What are the perilous consequences of Trump’s foolish decision to withdraw US troops from much (if not eventually all) of Syria?  His actions further realign the power structure of the Middle East to the detriment of Israel and our few remaining allies in the region.

  • Trump’s decision to abandon our friends, the Kurds, caught the government of Israel off guard. “In Israel, many see America’s withdrawal as desertion.”  “I feel like a Kurd today,” said Dore Gold, former Israeli UN ambassador and top foreign-policy official under Benjamin Netanyahu.  “If such betrayals befall the Kurds, Israelis from across the political spectrum are suddenly asking, what prevents the same from befalling another staunch American ally?”  Indeed, Emily B. Landau, an arms-control expert at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv said, “There’s a growing sense that Trump is backing away from his commitments to allies.”  Part of the fear in Israel is that Trump’s actions could embolden Iran at a particularly dangerous time in the Middle East.  Actually, Ofer Zalzberg, an Israeli analyst for International Crisis Group, argues that “the big concern is that if the Saudis feel exposed to Iranian attacks, they will shift from the current camp”—that of Israel and the US—“to the camp that says the most we can do is to diplomatically contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, even if only partly.”  All appearances are that Netanyahu’s leverage with Trump has reached a new low.
  • Tom Friedman adds an additional, yet important and separate result of Trump’s actions: “. . . the removal of US troops from Syria will make the Middle East more explosive . . . Those troops were also interrupting Iran’s efforts to build a land bridge from Tehran to Beirut to tighten the noose around Israel—and their removal could bring the Iran-Israel shadow war out into the open.  This is the really big story in the Middle East today.”  That is why Israel is now recalculating its security strategy.  The recent Iranian strike on Saudi oilfields demonstrated a sophistication that is genuinely a threat to Israel.  “Drone wreckage discovered in Saudi Arabia shows that the Iranians are manufacturing and operating drones so advanced (with jet engines and significant stealth capabilities) that they do not lag behind Israeli capabilities in this field.  Seventeen targets incurred a direct hit in this concentrated bombardment . . . an 85% success rate.”
  • Trump’s retreat from Syria is also a slap at our allies in Europe. The Wall Street Journal reports that “The State Department spent months seeking Europe’s help to share the burden of maintaining a safe zone in northern Syria, and with some success.  Trump’s decision undercuts that effort, and now Mr. Erdogan is threatening Europe with anew refugee wave if its leaders criticize his invasion.  ‘We will open the gates and send 3.6 million refuges your way,’ he said.”
  • Perhaps the greatest impact of Trump’s inconsistent and rapidly shifting positions in the Middle East is the benefit he has given to Vladimir Putin. Indeed, Jonathan Spyer of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security argues that “Russia is the biggest winner. . . Vladimir Putin is now the indispensable strategic arbiter in Syria.  None of the remaining pieces on the broken chessboard can move without Mr. Putin’s hand.  The Assad regime owes its survival to Moscow’s air intervention in September 2015 . . . Moscow has [also] co-opted important commanders within the Syrian security forces . . . Russia also has its own forces embedded in the Syrian Army, notably in the Fifth Assault Corps.”  Putin has had two objectives in the Syrian Civil War when it comes to the Kurds:  Foster America’s departure from Syria.  2.  Facilitate the Kurds’ embrace of Assad. Understandably, the Kurds have invited Assad’s army to come and help them.  Assad’s photo has replaced Trump’s among the Kurds! Trump’s capitulation to Erdogan delivered these two long-sought goals to Putin as a gift.  It is a staggering development in the Middle East.
  • An accompanying result of Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds is that the de facto US control of the skies in eastern Syria will end. For that reason the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have asked for a Russian no-fly zone over eastern Syria to protect the Kurds from the Turkish air force.  An additional fact of this new reality is that if Israel wishes to continue its clandestine war against Iranian weapons transfers and infrastructure building in Syria, it will need Russia permission to do so.  Before, America always provided the cover for this.  “Moscow’s hand is now profoundly stronger in the Middle East . . . Assad, the Kurds, Turkey and Israel all now depend on Moscow’s approval to advance their interest in Syria . . . All roads to Syria now run through Moscow. Mr. Putin could hardly ask for more.”
  • Trump’s withdrawal from Syria also threatens the growing Kurdish Church. Christianity is spreading in the majority Sunni community in Syria and other parts of the Middle East inhabited by Kurds.  But what will the violence mean for the church?  Shortly after Trump’s announcement, Turkish troops began a military assault on the Kurdish-controlled parts of Syria. Many of the Christians that live in that area have fled to Armenia, says Charlie Costa, who pastors a congregation in Beirut and actively plants churches in the Middle East.   “But of course, that empties the area of any Christian witness, at least theoretically or on a human level,” said Costa. “It leaves the place without a witness for Christ. Even those who support the President were disappointed with that because the view in the Middle East is always that America protects Christians.”  For that reason, Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse lamented Trump’s decision, saying it will seriously damage the Christian minorities in this region.

Trump’s cowering to Erdogan’s demands by withdrawing US troops from northern Syria has had and will continue to have a devastating impact on the Middle East.  As Lindsey Graham so poignantly commented, this is the greatest mistake Trump has ever made.  History will not treat him well for his abandonment and betrayal of a loyal ally.

See Jonathan Spyer in the New York Times (17 October 2019); Wall Street Journal editorial (12-13 October 2019); Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal (12-13 October 2019); Thomas Friedman in the New York Times (9 October 2019); David M. Halbfinger in the New York Times (9 October 2019); and Morgan Lee, “Trump’s Withdrawal from Syria Threatens the Growing Kurdish Church,” Today in Christian History (16 October 2019).

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One Comment to “Trump’s Betrayal Causes A Perilous Re-alignment In The Middle East”

  1. Arlie Rauch says:

    There is lots of ‘heavy’ stuff going on. From a purely political or human perspective, it is troublesome. From the perspective of national sovereignty and the welfare of the people for which our President is in the first place responsible, it is understandable. One can ask the impossible question of whose lives are more important: that of a Kurd or an American? There is no difference, but our President has an obligation to one more than the other.

    As far as the issues raised in the article, is Proverbs 21:1 only true if the President does what I want him to do? Are my prayers for God to give him wisdom answered affirmatively only if he does what I want him to do? Perhaps God is directing him and answering my prayer when he does what seems wrong to me. We read the prophecy in Ezekiel 38 and wonder where the United States is–it is not in the picture. One way or another the USA will get out of the Middle East as a dominating power before those prophecies are fulfilled. It is helpful and sane to evaluate present political decisions from the perspective of God’s plan.