Turkey and Russia strike a deal in Syria
President Trump this week sought to take credit for a “cease-fire” in northern Syria that will see invading Turkish troops along with Russian and Syrian regime forces take over territory previously controlled by U.S.-backed Kurdish militias. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that he would halt his military’s advance after striking a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin that forced Kurdish fighters to leave a 20-mile buffer zone along the Turkish border. Erdogan wants to push back the Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces, which he claims is an offshoot of a Kurdish terrorist group based in Turkey, and to send half of the 4 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey to this new “safe zone.” Under the deal, Turkish and Russian troops will jointly patrol a 6-mile strip along the border to enforce the cease-fire. Trump declared the result a “big success,” and announced that he would lift sanctions he’d imposed on Turkey for its aggression.
Turkey invaded the Kurdish-dominated region two weeks ago after Trump abruptly agreed in a phone call with Erdogan to withdraw almost all of the 1,000 U.S. troops stationed there. Republicans and Democrats condemned him for abandoning Kurdish forces who had fought with the U.S. against ISIS, and in the Syrian city of Qamishli, angry Kurds pelted withdrawing American military vehicles with potatoes, rocks, and rotten fruit. The House of Representatives voted 354 to 60 to condemn the pullout, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introducing a similar resolution. The withdrawal “will invite more of the chaos that breeds terrorism,” said McConnell, “and creates a vacuum our adversaries will certainly fill.”
What the editorials said
America’s humiliation in Syria is complete, said The New York Times. Threatened with genocide, our Kurdish “comrades in arms” have been forced to abandon their homes. Desperate for protection, they have turned to “the mass murderer Bashar al-Assad”—a client of Russia and Iran—who has sent thousands of troops north. “The acute shame” of the U.S. retreat was perfectly encapsulated in footage of a Russian reporter joyfully rummaging through a hastily abandoned U.S. base in northern Syria. Is this what success looks like?“An American exit was always in the cards,” said the New York Post—largely because of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy. He failed to substantively back democratic rebels in the early days of the Syrian Civil War, dismissing them as “farmers, dentists, and folks who have never fought before.” So when ISIS emerged, Obama had no choice but to join forces with the Kurds. When the Kurds got too powerful, it was inevitable that Turkey would intervene to protect its security. Today’s “mess was baked in long before Trump ever took office.”
What the columnists said
“Obama’s Syria policy was bad,” said Max Boot in The Washington Post. But at least it had an underlying logic. Trump approved Erdogan’s invasion of northern Syria, then threatened to punish Turkey for that very invasion, sending Erdogan a “blustery, insulting letter” that reportedly ended up in the trash. Trump brags that he’s “bringing the troops home.” But most of our Syrian forces are actually being redeployed to Iraq, which doesn’t want them. “Trump’s foreign policy is not only indefensible; it’s also incomprehensible.”
No one has benefited from Trump’s bungling more than Russia, said Michael McFaul in ForeignAffairs.com. Turkey has been condemned by fellow NATO members—France, Germany, and other European nations halted arms exports there after the invasion—furthering Putin’s goal of fracturing the alliance. The U.S.’s sudden retreat has also unnerved our regional closest allies. “Washington now looks unreliable at a time when Moscow is positioning itself as an alternative power broker” to the Saudis and the Israelis.
This is what a superpower in retreat looks like, said Matthew Continetti in FreeBeacon.com. Americans have to come to hate the costs of hegemony, and Obama and Trump were both elected on promises to wind down U.S. commitments in the Middle East. With no appetite for another war, we kept our footprint in Syria as light as possible. Our 1,000 troops were never really enough to guarantee security there, and Erdogan eventually called our bluff. “If what’s happening is a betrayal of American values, it’s one Americans voted for.” ■