Illustration by Ren Rader
Last week, the president unilaterally chose to abruptly reverse U.S. foreign policy by withdrawing our forces from northern Syria, where the United States had been supporting its Kurdish allies in the fight against the Islamic State and the Assad regime. The administration’s decision on the 6th of October was tacit approval of Turkey’s invasion of Syria that began three days later with the airstrikes launched by the Turkish Air Force on border towns.
The decision to pull U.S. forces from northern Syria, not unlike the administration’s broader foreign policy strategy (or rather, the lack thereof), has drawn public condemnation from many prominent members of Congress and experts from across the political spectrum. The conflict caused by the president’s cavalier decision has resulted in the displacement of over 200,000 people, the death of more than 200 civilians and the escape of over 750 terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State. The Turkish government contends that their invasion has been made with the sole purpose of ensuring its national security by establishing a buffer zone between Turkey and Syria; however, it is clear that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is merely using the invasion and the Kurdish presence on his border as a political ploy to garner domestic support for his increasingly authoritarian and unpopular government. The Trump administration’s new stance harms the Kurdish people and places innocent lives at risk by abandoning loyal allies of U.S. forces who have been fighting the Islamic State for years.
The policy change has left many wondering why this happened and if this administration can even be trusted to continue supporting our other allies. Republican senator Mitt Romney of Utah said, “What we have done to the Kurds will stand as a bloodstain in the annals of American history.”
While the exact policy shift did take me personally by surprise, I would say upon reflection it is only the latest addition to a longstanding redirection in U.S. foreign policy since our current president took office.
This president has time and time again proved to be incapable of putting “America first” and instead appears hell-bent on weakening our world standing. His foreign policy, as disorienting as it is, can be summed up as making Russia and China great again. With each of his decisions, the United States has hastened the rise of our regional adversaries and allowed for bad actors and authoritarian regimes like Russia and China to extend their spheres of influence into the arenas he has so often chosen to withdraw from. His withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership has left a vacuum geopolitically in South Asia that has allowed the Chinese to assert themselves as both patrons and bullies to the region’s weaker nations. Furthermore, the president’s undermining of our North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance and his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement have wedged our European partnerships against our better interests and enabled the Russians to become emboldened and return as influential adversaries in European and Middle Eastern affairs.
Withdrawing from northern Syria is not a new direction for this administration. It is yet another instance of this president willingly and enthusiastically weakening our power by allowing for foreign powers like Russia to come in our wake and fill the void of influence. Turkey’s invasion of Kurdish territory and its work to expel the 3 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey has led the Kurds to align themselves with Bashar al-Assad and the Russians. Such a change of heart by the President not only harms the Kurdish people and places innocent lives at risk but will also hinder the efforts of future administrations to persuade partners to align with the United States; we will only be seen as disloyal and weak.
U.S. involvement with the Kurds has always risked trouble with Turkey, but the United States had been able to manage the tensions and work with both of them. And in fact, there was the potential for the United States to leverage its influence to work toward peace, or to at the very least make an attempt to ensure it. At the end of the day, this administration’s latest foreign policy blunder further proves this president’s ineptitude and utter stupidity. His reckless decision to not even consult the Department of Defense in his announcement of withdrawing from Northern Syria creates a significant potential for the Islamic State to return like a phoenix from the ashes and wreak havoc. By abandoning the Kurds to the Turkish onslaught, we have yet again aided Russia in expanding its sphere and provided them with another ally. This president should be ashamed of himself for systematically dismantling our diplomatic influence abroad, and we should all take note and remember come next year’s election.