The United States rightfully celebrated the death of the Islamic State (ISIS) leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, on Oct. 27. The killing of this despicable cutthroat was a clear setback for ISIS, but the group will continue to threaten the U.S. and its allies. Just as the death of Osama bin Laden did not eliminate al-Qaeda, Baghdadi’s death will not stop ISIS.
Our efforts to further reduce the danger posed by ISIS suffered a substantial setback because of the president’s abandonment of our Syrian Kurd allies. They provided the intelligence that allowed the highly disciplined and effective U.S. Joint Special Operations Command warriors to end Baghdadi’s loathsome existence. The Kurds had previously killed and captured tens of thousands of Baghdadi’s followers in northeast Syria on our behalf.
After receiving a green light from the president, the Turks forced about 180,000 Kurdish fighters and their families out of their homes along the Syria-Turkey border in a classic ethnic cleansing operation. As a tragic result, we will no longer be able to count on the Kurds as our eyes and ears on the ground in the fight against ISIS.
The president claimed he wanted to bring our troops home, but somehow they ended up in Iraq. The Iraqi government was apparently surprised by their arrival, saying they could not stay for more than a few months. Now, it appears that some will be sent back to Syria to guard oil wells, partly to keep ISIS from getting the oil. Wouldn’t it have made sense to keep ISIS from reforming so that it would not be in a position to grab the oil?
Just five days after the retreat from Syria was announced, the president ordered almost 3,000 U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia. It is not clear whether the troops will be protecting the Saudis or their oil. In any event, we will have a significant military presence in the kingdom that produced most of the 9-11 terrorists. It is the same kingdom that is using a great deal of sophisticated U.S. military equipment to rather indiscriminately kill people in an ill-advised war in Yemen.
It should not be forgotten that the last time a significant number of American troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia, they became terrorist targets. On June 25, 1996, the Khobar Towers barracks was bombed, killing 19 members of our Air Force. Bin Laden rose to international infamy cursing and bemoaning the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia.
The abandonment of the Kurds has caused great anxiety on the part of our few remaining friends in the Middle East. An Oct. 11 Washington Post report from Jerusalem says that Israel’s national security experts were “badly rattled” by the abrupt pullout. The Kurds were viewed by Israelis “as long-standing allies of Israel, a reliable, moderate pro-Western group that has fought on Israel’s side in multiple conflicts, most recently in the battle against Islamic State militants in Syria.” The Israelis are concerned that Iran’s increasing influence in Syria will endanger their security.
Iraqi President Barham Salih said the withdrawal will cause his country to “recalibrate” its relationship with the United States. He said the staying power of the U.S. “is being questioned in a very, very serious way,” and that our allies “are worried about the dependability of the United States.” He declined to rule out closer alliances with Russia and Iran.
It is likely that the Middle-East terrorist threat to America will only increase because Trump dumped the only really reliable ally we had in the region. Without a trusted partner to look after our interests there, we will have to go back at some point in even greater force, simply as a matter of defending the homeland.
Jim Jones is a former Idaho attorney general and a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice.