On Sunday, President Donald Trump announced the immediate withdrawal of American military forces from positions in northern Syria. Explaining the seemingly-impulsive decision on Twitter, Trump cited the desire to “get out of these ridiculous endless wars,” and that “we will fight where it is to our benefit, and only fight to win.”
This decision was decried by the Kurdish-led forces who, despite being a key US ally in the defeat of ISIS in Syria, have now been left unprotected against an imminent Turkish “operation” in the territory. Led by the dictatorial tyrant President Erdogan, the Turkish regime sees the Kurdish forces in Syria as an “extension of the Kurdish rebel group fighting in Turkey,” and have labeled them as terrorists. In the face of such violent rhetoric from Turkey, it is hardly surprising that the Kurds have labeled Trump’s decision to pave the way for a potential bloodbath as a “stab in the back.”
The first fundamental problem with Trump’s decision is that his thought process seems to be primarily focused on the immediate short-term, without consideration for any long-term impact. Recent history has taught us that sudden and total withdrawal from territory in the Middle East creates a “power vacuum.” This leads either to the return of our previous enemies, or the emergence of a greater foe in their place. The explosive growth of ISIS was made possible by the creation of such power vacuums. By deciding to suddenly withdraw from the region between Syria and Turkey, Donald Trump will be responsible for the new conflicts and enemies which will almost certainly rise as a result.
The second issue with this form of impulsive isolationist policy is, arguably, far more concerning. With Trump effectively signing the death warrant of the Kurdish fighters, we should recognize the fundamental moral crimes that are being committed - allies of the United States are being left to die. Lindsey Graham summed it up perfectly by stating that abandoning the Kurds would be a “stain on America’s honor,” and this stain would be impossible to remove. Why should current or potential allies continue to trust the United States when Trump has made it clear that any and all alliances can be destroyed at a moment’s notice?
It is reasonable to have theoretical and hypothetical discussions regarding the validity of decisions to enter any military conflicts. Without the ability to turn back time, however, we cannot attempt to retrospectively right the perceived policy mistakes of the past by ignoring the reality of the current state of affairs. Such a reality includes honoring the commitments made by the United States to its allies, as well as a moral duty to protect those who have fought alongside us from the outcome of our own political and military actions.
Those who cheer Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from the region must look beyond the understandable - yet selfish - desire to protect the immediate interests of the United States, and consider what it means to be an American on the world stage. If Trump continues to betray allies who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of common goals and, in the case of the Kurds, leave them to be slaughtered in the aftermath, then the United States will soon find themselves alone. While isolationists may welcome such a scenario, it is naivety of the highest order to believe that we can continue to abandon our allies - and thereby provide a rallying call for our enemies - without having to face the consequences.