U.S. military forces in northern Syria helped maintain a degree of stability in the area, though it was fragile and disrupted almost immediately after Donald Trump announced withdrawal of American troops. The Republican president ignored the advice of his foreign policy and national security teams, and he saw no need to consult with anyone -- other than Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who encouraged Trump to make the drastic and dangerous move.
As the White House struggled in recent days to come to terms with the consequences of the president's decision, a senior administration official conceded to the Washington Post on Sunday, "This is total chaos."
It's important to understand the scope and scale of that chaos, because we're not just talking about an inept White House, unsure what to do in response to quickly changing circumstances. We're also dealing with a national security crisis, a diplomatic crisis, and an American foreign policy that, as Rachel put it on the show last night, is "collapsing into catastrophe."
On the ground in Syria, for example, our Kurdish allies, abandoned by Trump and confronting a brutal massacre, have now allied with Russia and Syria's Assad regime, largely because they needed a reliable ally and could no longer count on the United States. The Kurds, of course, were fighting ISIS, but that's no longer the case because Trump effectively cleared the way for Turkey to launch a brutal offensive against the Kurds. ISIS, naturally, is delighted.
American troops, meanwhile, have reportedly been "bracketed" by Turkish artillery fire, which (a) puts those American troops at risk; (b) means an ostensible NATO ally is firing on our military servicemen and women; and (c) potentially leaves those Americans stuck in a highly volatile area, since Turkish forces control the nearby roads. By some accounts, an airlift may be necessary.
The New York Times reported on the speed with which calamitous conditions unfolded.
President Trump's acquiescence to Turkey's move to send troops deep inside Syrian territory has in only one week's time turned into a bloody carnage, forced the abandonment of a successful five-year-long American project to keep the peace on a volatile border, and given an unanticipated victory to four American adversaries: Russia, Iran, the Syrian government and the Islamic State.Rarely has a presidential decision resulted so immediately in what his own party leaders have described as disastrous consequences for American allies and interests.... [T]his much already is clear: Mr. Trump ignored months of warnings from his advisers about what calamities likely would ensue if he followed his instincts to pull back from Syria and abandon America's longtime allies, the Kurds. He had no Plan B, other than to leave. The only surprise is how swiftly it all collapsed around the president and his depleted, inexperienced foreign policy team.
The same Times article noted that U.S. officials have been "quietly reviewing plans for evacuating roughly 50 tactical nuclear weapons" that we've long stored in Turkey -- which wasn't cause for concern until Turkey started firing artillery rounds at American troops.
Some international crises can be blamed on multiple figures. This one rests almost entirely on Donald Trump's shoulders.
Bill Burns, a veteran U.S. Foreign Service officer with more than three decades of experience, wrote a piece yesterday for Foreign Affairs, explaining, "For dictators, Trump is the gift that keeps on giving."
Burns added that Trump is guilty of a "dangerous brand of diplomatic malpractice," utilizing "a diplomacy of narcissism, bent on advancing private interests at the expense of our national interests." On the show last night, Burns went on to say that the only real beneficiaries of the chaos Trump created are Russia, Syria, Iran, and ISIS.
It isn't easy for an American president to advance the interests of Russia, Syria, Iran, and ISIS through a single decision, but Trump managed to find a way.
Perhaps, some White House allies might argue, the American president's Syria decision hasn't worked out well, but this is only part of a larger foreign policy. That's true, though as Jackson Diehl explained the other day, "virtually every other foreign policy initiative the Trump administration has pursued" -- from Iran to North Korea, Afghanistan to Venezuela -- "has imploded ... thanks mostly to the president's increasingly unhinged behavior."
Things may yet get worse for American interests: Russia is now reportedly "patrolling territory in northern Syria vacated by the Americans," filling the vacuum created by Trump.