10.09.19

Comments On President’s Trump’s Decision To Suddenly Withdraw U.S. Forces From Northeastern Syria

While significant progress has been made against ISIS in Syria, it remains far from defeated and almost nothing else has turned out as people hoped. Much of the country is destroyed, roughly half a million Syrians have died, at least five million have fled to neighboring countries, and Bashir al-Assad, a ruthless dictator supported by Russia, is still in power.

As was the case in the earliest days of the Syrian conflict, there are legitimate questions about the appropriate role of U.S. military forces in Syria, and about what our goal should be there. I opposed the Obama Administration’s proposed authorization for the use of military force in Syria in 2013 because it was overly broad, and I opposed the manner in which President Trump twice attacked Syria without approval from Congress. Under the Constitution it is Congress’s authority to declare war, and decisions about the use of the military should always be based on a well-defined strategy – something I called for in Syria a year and a half ago.

Unfortunately, there still is no U.S. strategy in Syria. President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces and open the door for a Turkish invasion against the Syrian Democratic Forces, comprised mostly of Kurds, who have been our strongest allies against ISIS, is a stark reminder of that fact. His decision was not based on calculated risk, there were no consultations with Congress, and it was apparently made against the advice of top officials in the U.S. military, the State Department, and our intelligence agencies. Rather, his impulsive decision was based on a phone call he had with Turkey’s President Erdogan, a wannabe strongman himself, who decided it was in Turkey’s interest to wipe out our Kurdish allies in northeastern Syria. Predictably, Turkish forces, armed with U.S. weapons, have already begun moving into Syria, which the Kurds have vowed to resist. Many predict there will be a bloodbath.

During the campaign, President Trump vowed to bring our troops home. We all want that. But this sudden, unplanned and precipitous decision, with minimal if any justification, consultation, or concern for the consequences, is immoral and unwise. Key Republicans and key Democrats in Congress have condemned this sudden action. By impulsively reversing course and abandoning those who have fought and died alongside our troops, we are signaling to the rest of the world that we cannot be trusted. It’s been said that the President’s sudden decision devalues the presidential handshake. Our allies, and the world, need to be able to trust the word and the soundness of the decisions by the government of the United States of America. By creating a vacuum, it strengthens the hand of the Assad regime, of Russia, and of Iran and risks setting off a much larger conflict.

The biggest winner may be ISIS, which is hoping that Kurdish fighters who are currently guarding thousands of ISIS prisoners will have to abandon their posts to defend themselves against Turkey. The President’s real goal may be to distract attention from the impeachment investigation, but it is likely to make a bad situation in Syria even worse for us and our allies in the future.

That is why there has been bipartisan outrage over this decision. But for those who are for the first time speaking out about the manner in which President Trump is reversing U.S. policy on a whim, abandoning an ally, ignoring the experts, and disregarding the likely consequences of his actions, I have to wonder if this will be a wakeup call to the reckless and dangerous nature of President Trump’s foreign policy more broadly. In Syria it risks a devastating outcome for our allies and our national interests in the region. This is not simply a matter of disagreement over how best to advance U.S. interests, it is a disagreement over the very definition of those interests and how to ensure that the Executive Branch is held accountable for protecting them.

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