President Trump is facing down an impeachment inquiry, and his former subordinates are starting to disobey his efforts to keep them from testifying. After a lifetime of total impunity for alleged crimes, sexual assaults, and business failures, Trump is just possibly facing a serious consequence.
So naturally, he chose to upset his own caucus by randomly ordering a withdrawal of American forces from northern Syria and green-lighting an invasion by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan — thus throwing Kurdish militias who have been loyal allies of U.S. troops for years, and took thousands of casualties fighting ISIS on America's behalf, directly to the wolves. Thousands are fleeing, and hundreds have been killed. After the House of Representatives voted 354 to 60 to condemn the action, Vice President Pence announced Thursday he had negotiated a five-day ceasefire to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw — which was over a week too late and, as Rachel Maddow outlines, gave Erdogan exactly what he wanted.
It turns out having an incurious, vicious dolt whose mind is clearly fading by the minute in charge of the world's largest military is not so good.
It is hard to put into words just how weird and unsettling it is watching this oaf blunder his way around world politics. In some ways, it's like being ruled by an abusive father. Every time something happens — like the unfortunate recent passing of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) — people are on tenterhooks wondering what horrible poison Trump is going to tweet. With such a cruel and graceless person, you can never be sure what is going to set him off, or who is going to be shoved down the metaphorical stairs. (This time it wasn't so bad, luckily.)
But in other ways, it's worse than that. The Syrian withdrawal was so abrupt and unplanned that U.S. troops couldn't even dismantle their bases. In at least one case they ended up bombing their own weapons depot so it didn't end up in the hands of Turkey — or worse, like the hundreds of ISIS prisoners who escaped from confinement, or were set loose by Turkey-backed forces. Russian state TV is running gleeful segments exploring all the expensive stuff and personal items that got left behind.
Now, on the list of worst U.S. crimes, this would go pretty far down the list, behind the Vietnam War, the Iraq invasion, the Guatemalan civil war, and many others. And certainly the U.S. has made stupid, nonsensical foreign policy decisions as well.
But abandoning the Kurds like this might just be the most purely loopy foreign policy act an American president has ever done. The U.S. has spent tens of billions of dollars since 2014 fighting ISIS, propping up both the Kurds on one side and the Iraqi military on the other. The whole U.S. position in the region has been oriented around this goal. Now not only are we giving up on that entire project, seemingly because Trump had a short conversation with a quasi-dictator, we didn't even give our former allies — who are incidentally about the most sympathetic group in the entire region — a few days' warning.
One can criticize President Obama's war on ISIS, but instantly pulling up stakes like this is far from some responsible wind-down of an overextended U.S. military. It is a stark demonstration that the United States' decisions have become impossible to predict because its president is an irrational maniac. As Bernie Sanders said in the recent debate, "[W]hat he has done is wreck our ability to do foreign policy, to do military policy, because nobody in the world will believe this pathological liar." America's promises mean nothing, its positions might swing by 180 degrees from one day to another, and it might end up blowing up its own military hardware as a result.
As David J. Roth, for whom Trump has (perhaps unfortunately) become a sort of muse, writes:
Trump is always trying to get over, to win and keep winning, but also he doesn’t know what the rules are, or what the game even is, and also someone — it’s not important who, it would be unfair to point fingers — has eaten the racecar, the thimble, all of the little plastic hotels, and a third of the cards in Community Chest. It can be difficult to prove that any of Trump’s many howlingly overt acts of malfeasance are intentional because everything he does — from the first grasping moments to his last seething ones, all through his endless expanses of executive time — feels like and fundamentally is an accident. [Deadspin]
Remember how the president of the United States can order a nuclear strike at any point on the planet on his word alone, and legally nobody can tell him no? Yeah.
Meanwhile, Trump is reacting to criticism in the usual way: whiny blustering and blaming everyone but himself. When people got mad about the Syria decision, he sent an absolutely deranged letter to Erdogan that was so bizarre that reporters initially thought it was a hoax. (Erdogan, naturally, threw it directly in the trash.) He gave a press conference where he accused Kurdish militias of being "more of a terrorist threat in many ways than ISIS." Then he had a shouting match with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer where he called her a "third-grade politician."
The man, frankly, is out of his gourd.
It is anybody's guess how long the Republican Party will remain absolutely behind Trump. Let's just hope the country doesn't collapse before he can be run out of office.