After American forces defeated Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) did not have the foggiest idea of how to form a new government to run the country. Just about everything the CPA did was wrong. One participant characterized the CPA effort as “pasting together feathers, hoping for a duck.” That is also an accurate description of the Trump administration’s Syria policy.
The president announced on Dec. 19 that all U.S. forces would be withdrawn from Syria in 30 days. The decision was apparently precipitated by a phone call between Trump and the Turkish president five days earlier. The call was intended to warn Erdogan against attacking our Kurdish allies in Syria, but Trump blurted out, “You know what? It’s yours. I’m leaving.” Just like that, we washed our hands of Syria.
The withdrawal decision was gleefully received by our enemies--ISIS, Russia, Syria and Iran. They have all wanted us out of the way in Syria. On the other hand, the president blindsided our Defense and State Departments, who correctly believed we were pursuing a winning strategy in Syria--eliminating the threat of ISIS terrorists and countering the threat posed to our Israeli and Arab allies by Iran.
The precipitous decision caused the Secretary of Defense to resign in protest. Many knowledgeable people of both parties have shown that ISIS is still a threat and will be able to regenerate in the vacuum left when we bug out. National security adviser John Bolton tried to do damage control in Israel but was undercut by the president. Now, neither our allies, nor our enemies, know what U.S. policy is.
The president said his withdrawal would bring home the 2,000 troops working with the Kurds, implying it was a big favor to the troops. While I can’t speak for those troops, I imagine the decision has caused many of them a great deal of heartache. They were working with dedicated Kurdish warriors who were knocking the daylights out of the Islamic State cutthroats. What greater job could American patriots have? Their work has been cut short and I’m betting they are sick at heart about it.
The Syrian Kurds have been faithful allies of the U.S. in the fight against ISIS for the last four years. They have suffered thousands of casualties in our joint fight against the terrorists. At the same time, they have set up a large enclave in northeast Syria, which is governed under the most enlightened principles in the region.
We promised the Syrian Kurds we would support them against their many regional enemies when the work was done. The increasingly autocratic Erdogan wrongly brands them as terrorists for his own political ends. Every despot has to invent an enemy to rally the population against--usually foreigners, ethnic groups or the like. Erdogan has pledged to exterminate our Syrian friends. I doubt that our service personnel who have formed bonds with the Kurdish forces are too keen about that prospect, or about abandoning them in the first place.
I know what that situation is like. Fifty years ago, I lived and worked with South Vietnamese soldiers, many of whom were Catholic refugees from North Vietnam. In 1954, their entire village in the north picked up and fled south to escape Communist persecution. They were wonderful people. When the U.S. left Vietnam, we gave the South Vietnamese ironclad assurances that we would keep them supplied and give them strong air support in the event of a Communist attack. We flat failed to honor our promises and many of my friends suffered death or imprisonment as a result. We simply can’t repeat that kind of tragic betrayal.
It would be a stain on the honor of the United States to abandon our Kurdish allies who have sacrificed much to serve American aims in the region. The job has not been finished and we have made promises that an honorable nation would work hard to keep.
Jim Jones is a former Idaho attorney general and a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice.