At an event last week, former Secretary of State Colin Powell reflected on the international landscape and concluded, “[O]ur foreign policy is a shambles right now … and I see things happening that are hard to understand.”
It was hardly an unreasonable assessment. The U.S. State Department is “deeply shaken” and “reeling,” thanks in part to Donald Trump’s political appointees who are politicizing the department “in ways that undermine U.S. ties to other countries.” Attorney General Bill Barr, meanwhile, is endangering our relationships abroad, prompting backlashes among American allies, in pursuit of assorted conspiracy theories.
Much of the administration’s foreign policy initiatives have completely unraveled, including the failed nuclear negotiations with North Korea.
And then, of course, there’s Donald Trump, who’s come up with a new policy in Syria.
The U.S. military has moved its forces away from the Turkish border with northern Syria, after the White House said Sunday night that Turkey would soon begin an operation in a part of northeastern Syria where it wants to resettle Syrian refugees – and that U.S. forces wouldn’t be there to help or stop them.
The U.S. has not received orders to commence a large-scale withdrawal from the region, remaining in a “wait and see” position, according to a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the situation.
In a statement issued late Sunday, the White House said Turkey would “soon be moving forward” with its “long-planned operation” in northern Syria and that the United States wouldn’t be involved.
If it sounds like Trump is abandoning the Kurds just a few days after the Trump administration said the opposite, it’s because that’s precisely what’s happening.
The president’s new policy, if anyone can call it that, goes against “the recommendations of top officials in the Pentagon and the State Department,” whose judgment the president tends to disregard.
If you’re feeling a sense of déjà vu, it’s understandable. It was 10 months ago when Trump, following a conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced an impulsive and unexpected troop withdrawal from Syria, blindsiding our allies, U.S. military leaders, and the White House’s own congressional allies.
And here we are again, watching Trump announce another impulsive and unexpected troop withdrawal from Syria following a conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, blindsiding our allies, U.S. military leaders, and the White House’s own congressional allies.
Brett McGurk, who served as the special presidential envoy for international coalition to combat ISIS, argued on Twitter overnight, “Donald Trump is not a Commander-in-Chief. He makes impulsive decisions with no knowledge or deliberation. He sends military personnel into harm’s way with no backing. He blusters and then leaves our allies exposed when adversaries call his bluff or he confronts a hard phone call.”
For his part, the Republican president has published a series of very strange tweets on the subject, acknowledging his abandonment of the Kurds, claiming Russia is “unhappy” with his decision (despite the opposite being true), asserting that he’s “obliterated” Turkey’s economy in the past, and claiming to have “great and unmatched wisdom.”
No, really, that’s what he wrote. It’s not my attempt at creating some kind of ridiculous caricature of Trump; it’s what Trump actually published online.
What I continue to find amazing is the absence of a policymaking process. A coherent foreign policy is rooted in a mature, deliberate decision-making process, where consequences are weighed carefully.
With Trump, none of that happens. There’s no interagency process. There’s no consultation with Congress or key U.S. military leaders. There’s no coordination with allies. There’s just a reckless amateur president, acting on impulse, following conversations with foreign leaders he struggles to understand.