I’m starting to think the “J” in Donald J. Trump really stands for “Jihadi.”
I jest, but not really.
In a bizarre speech Wednesday (and taking no questions), the president praised his “major breakthrough” in Syria. He took credit for the deal by which Russia and Turkey divided up the Kurdish region of Syria between them, with the U.S. as a bystander. This completed Trump’s betrayal of our Kurdish allies.
“This was an outcome created by us, no other nation,” Trump crowed, praising his great Mideast “victory.” But victory for whom?
Besides gifting Russia and Iran and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad (none of whom he mentioned), the main victors are Islamist jihadis.
I don’t just refer to ISIS, whose prospects Trump just dramatically revived. I also refer to hardline Islamist militias whom Turkey dispatched into Syria last week – without any Trump protest– in order to terrorize Christians and Kurds.
Indeed, Trump appears totally blind to what he has unleashed with his green light for a Turkish invasion of Syrian Kurdistan. And yes, it was a green light, because Turkey would not have invaded if the president had refused to withdraw the few dozen U.S. troops serving as a tripwire. Despite his constant critique of a “weak” President Obama, Trump caved to all of Turkey’s demands.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan quickly used that green light to dispatch Syrian Islamist militias backed by Ankara across the border into Syrian Kurdistan to fight our Syrian Kurdish allies and terrorize their civilians. These Turkish proxy forces are only slightly better than ISIS; they call for the destruction of all infidels – including Kurds and Christians (who have been protected by the Kurds). These proxies were already used to terrorize Kurdish civilians last year when Turkey seized the Syrian Kurdish border town of Afrin and largely “cleansed it” of Kurds.
On Oct. 12, one of these Turkish proxy militias stopped the car of Kurdish political leader Hevrin Khalaf on the main Kurdish highway. Khalaf, 37, was one of the many impressive female Syrian Kurdish politicians, several of whom I interviewed in a 2016 visit to northern Syria. Syrian Kurdish women play a greater leadership role than in any other Middle Eastern community, including in their military.
Khalaf had been reassured by State Dept. officials as recently as Oct. 3, that Washington would safeguard northern Syria from a threatened Turkish assault, according to Reuters.
But, thanks to Trump’s green light, Turkish-backed thugs were free to attack Kurdish civilians. They dragged Khalaf from her car by her hair so hard that her skin peeled from her scalp, beat her, kicked her, and pumped her full of bullets, according to the autopsy report and grisly footage filmed by her killers. The leader of the jihadi group that killed her along with several other civilians was reportedly a thug named Abu Hatem Chakra, who has bragged to Turkish media that he was praised by Erdogan for similar work in Afrin.
Yet Trump continues to praise Erdogan, and has invited him to the White House. The president says he expects Erdogan to keep “his commitment” to keep down ISIS. Again, Trump is totally ignorant of the facts on the ground.
Erdogan has no interest in containing ISIS, and has never done so. He permitted ISIS fighters to freely cross in and out of Turkey, all the while Kurdish and U.S. forces were battling the caliphate. All of the foreign fighters that joined ISIS passed through Turkey without being stopped. Wounded ISIS fighters went to Turkey for treatment.
In other words, Erdogan values his promises to Trump as much as his proxies valued Hevrin Khalaf’s life. So why should we expect Turkey to protect ISIS jails that were guarded by the Kurds, or to prevent an ISIS revival? Already ISIS is crowing on social media about the U.S. retreat.
Blind to Erdogan’s intent, Trump is also oblivious to the geopolitical disaster his hasty retreat has inflicted on America. Scenes of U.S. troops scrambling to evacuate, surrounded by pro-Turkish militias, their tanks pelted with vegetables by angry Kurdish civilians, were plastered on social media worldwide. So were scenes of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin meeting in Sochi, and dividing up the Kurdish heartland.
These scenes prompted Brett McGurk, former U.S. special envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, to tweet: “The split screen of Trump’s shambolic withdrawal from Syria and Putin’s state visit[s] across the Middle East is searing perceptions of a new balance of power in the world.”
But nothing so besmirches America’s honor as Trump’s claim that “we’ve done [the Kurds] a great service” and that the Kurds “are extremely thankful.”
The world has seen how America treats its allies. Its president disdains the Kurds, who lost 11,000 men and women fighting ISIS, but praises a Turkish leader who helps ISIS and other jihadis.