Monday began with an attempt by Individual-1 to draw attention from Ukraine by allowing Turkey to intensify military operations against the Kurds. This is why Trump didn’t play golf Sunday, because of his “great and unmatched wisdom” needed to strategize yet another move against democracy.
If you need to understand the crisis in Syria as Trump has given the green light for Turkey to massacre Kurds, you should read this tweet-thread and the-article by Brett McGurk. One takeaway remains that Trump’s moves continue to allow Russia to gain power and influence in the region.
— Brett McGurk (@brett_mcgurk) October 7, 2019
- First: It was Trump (not Obama) that made the decision to arm the Kurdish component (YPG) of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to take Raqqa, then ISIS’s capital city. He made this decision after his national security team developed options for his review.
- The SDF suffered thousands of casualties in the Raqqa battle. Not a single American life was lost. Trump later expanded the operation down the ERV. He touts these operations in political rallies but without apparent thought as to who did the fighting and dying.
- The weapons provided were meager and just enough for the battle against ISIS. (The SDF cleared IEDs by purchasing flocks of sheep.) They were not “paid massive amounts of money and equipment” (as Trump said today). Nearly all stabilization funding came from the @coalition.
- Second: the United States did not partner with SDF over realistic alternatives. Both Obama and Trump developed and considered options to work with the Turkey-backed opposition, which is unfortunately riddled with extremists, many tied to al Qaeda.
- Nonetheless, our best military planners spent months with counterparts in Turkey across both administrations. The only available Turkey-approved option in NE Syria would have required tens of thousands of American troops. Two U.S. presidents rejected that option.
- Third: the United States is not “holding” ISIS detainees in Syria. They are all being held by the SDF, and barely so given meager resources. State and DOD Inspectors General have covered this in depth. Summary here 👉 media.defense.gov/2019/Aug/06/20…
- Turkish entry by force into NE Syria risks fracturing the SDF, pulling its fighters out of former ISIS strongholds, abandoning ISIS prison facilities, and making it impossible for U.S. forces to stay on the ground in small numbers with an acceptable level of risk.
- Fourth: It was the Trump administration that dramatically expanded the Syria mission in 2018 beyond ISIS to include staying on the ground until Iran left Syria and the civil war was resolved (meaning many years). Another example of maximalist objectives for a minimalist POTUS.
- Indeed, the administration expanded the mission and policy aims in Syria while Trump cut U.S. resources by more than 50 percent, leaving our people on the ground scrambling with no backup from the president himself. Misaligned ends/means = policy incoherence & risk.
Trump then (twice) abruptly reversed course after 1) a foreign leader call and 2) without consulting his own military advisors. If anyone still believes Trump cares about Syria, they’re mistaken. He doesn’t and his erratic swings heighten risk to our personnel on the ground.
- Finally: the U.S. leads a @coalition that includes over 80 countries and nearly two dozen contributors to the military and/or stabilization mission in Syria. Leading a coalition requires consultation with coalition partners before major decisions are taken. This is elementary.
- The consequences of such unreliability from the Oval will reverberate well beyond Syria. The value of an American handshake is depreciating. Trump today said we could “crush ISIS again” if it regenerated. With who? What allies would sign up? Who would fight on his assurances?
- Bottom line: These are matters of war and peace, life and death. Our military personnel, friends and allies, deserve deliberation and thought before decisions are made (the essence of “command”). Erratic swings favor far more patient adversaries in Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran.
- I discussed much of this in @foreignaffairs a few month ago and stand by the analysis. You can read it here👇
— Brett McGurk (@brett_mcgurk) October 7, 2019
No one in the U.S. government had seriously discussed near-term withdrawal, let alone the idea that Washington could simply declare victory over ISIS and then leave Syria. On December 11, 2018, I stood at the State Department podium and explained the United States’ then official policy on Syria: “It would be reckless if we were just to say, well, the physical caliphate is defeated, so we can just leave now.” Eight days later, Trump did just that, declaring via Twitter that “we have won against ISIS” and that “our boys, our young women, our men—they’re coming back, and they’re coming back now.” This announcement left the campaign in disarray and Washington’s allies in disbelief. U.S. officials, including me, scrambled to explain the abrupt change of course to our partners. After four years of helping to lead the coalition, I found it impossible to effectively carry out my new instructions, and on December 22, I resigned.
The United States must also accept that Turkey, although a treaty ally, is not an effective partner. U.S. diplomats continue to hope that by working with Turkey on Syria, they can break Ankara’s drift toward authoritarianism and a foreign policy that works against U.S. interests. They cannot. Turkey was a problematic ally well before any disagreement over Syria. Over the past decade, Ankara has helped Iran avoid U.S. sanctions, held U.S. citizens hostage, and used migration as a tool to blackmail Europe. More recently, it has begun to purchase Russian antiaircraft systems over the objections of NATO and has actively supported—along with China, Iran, and Russia—President Nicolás Maduro’s authoritarian regime in Venezuela. Turkey wants U.S. support for its project to extend its territory 20 miles into northeastern Syria, even as it refuses to do anything about al Qaeda’s entrenchment in northwestern Syria. Washington should have no part of this cynical agenda. It should make clear to Ankara that a Turkish attack on the SDF—even after the U.S. withdrawal—will carry serious consequences for the U.S.-Turkish relationship.
Finally, the United States must recognize that Russia is now the main power broker in Syria. Washington has no relations with Damascus or Tehran, so it will have to work with Moscow to get anything done. Russia and the United States have some overlapping interests in Syria: both want the country to retain its territorial integrity and deny a safe haven to ISIS and al Qaeda, and both have close ties with Israel. The Syrian crisis cannot be resolved without direct engagement between Moscow and Washington, and the United States should isolate the Syrian problem from other aspects of its troubled and adversarial relationship with Russia.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2019