In the quiet hours of Sunday evening, the White House announced that the United States “will no longer be in the immediate area” of Northern Syria. The decision gives President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey space to launch a long-planned assault on the region and against Kurdish forces specifically. The rhetorical fallout from the Syria pullout has been swift and fierce.
In the fight against ISIS, the Kurds have been a strategically important U.S. ally. A U.S. departure from the region all but ensures devastation for the Kurds.
Official statement from the White House Press Secretary
President Trump has been weighing such a decision for many months. More than one administration official has handed in his resignation, in part, because of this volatile issue. In remarks to the media today, Trump said “Syria was supposed to be a short-term hit.” He defended his decision to withdraw troops at this time as the fulfillment of a campaign promise. To be sure, the situation on the ground and the historical context are complex and untenable. Yet, the abrupt announcement Sunday night sent shock waves through the foreign policy community today. The official announcement came Sunday evening. It reads:
“Today, President Donald J. Trump spoke with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey by telephone. Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria. The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial “Caliphate,” will no longer be in the immediate area.
The United States Government has pressed France, Germany, and other European nations, from which many captured ISIS fighters came, to take them back, but they did not want them and refused. The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer. Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial “Caliphate” by the United States.”
The President’s decision to remove U.S. troops from the region has been met with sharp criticism, even among his staunchest supporters. The fallout of the Syria pullout is evident as critics describe the move as:
- Betraying a long-standing ally
- Ensuring the destabilization of the region
- Threatening national security
- Prompting an unnecessary humanitarian crisis
- Hastening the demise of Christians and other religious minorities in the region
- Diminishing U.S. integrity
In the 24-hours since the announcement, responses from lawmakers and leading foreign policy experts have been swift and pointed. Following is an assortment of remarks that punctuate the fallout of the Syria pullout:
“We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake.” —Nikki Haley, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
“A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup…As we learned the hard way during the Obama Administration, American interests are best served by American leadership, not by retreat or withdrawal.” —U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
“Once again, [President Trump] is deserting an ally in a foolish attempt to appease a foreign strongman – this time betraying our Kurdish allies who have been instrumental partners in our mission to eradicate ISIS.” —U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
“By abandoning the Kurds we have sent the most dangerous signal possible — America is an unreliable ally and it’s just a matter of time before China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea act out in dangerous ways… [the decision] ensures [an] ISIS comeback, forces Kurds to align with Assad and Iran, destroys Turkey’s relationship with U.S. Congress, and will be a stain on America’s honor for abandoning the Kurds.” —Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
“The President’s decision to abandon our Kurdish allies in Northern Syria in the face of an assault by Turkey is a betrayal that will have grave humanitarian and national security consequences. After enlisting support from the Kurds to help destroy ISIS and assuring Kurdish protection from Turkey, the U.S. has now opened the door to their destruction. This severely undercuts America’s credibility as a reliable partner and creates a power vacuum in the region that benefits ISIS.” —Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT)
“We degraded ISIS using Kurd’s [sic] as the ground force. Now we have abandoned them & they face annihilation at the hands of the Turkish military. ISIS could now be reinvigorated when 1000’s of jailed fighters break out when the Kurdish guards are forced to leave to go fight Turkey.” —Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
“An invasion by Turkey into NE Syria would pose a grave threat to the region’s Kurds and Christians, endangering the prospects of true religious freedom in the Middle East.” —Tony Perkins, Chair, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
Allowing Turkey to occupy NE Syria is a huge foreign policy debacle that will cost President Trump support. It is a betrayal of a long-standing ally with the Kurds. The persecution of Christians, as well as the genocide of Kurds, will destroy the Trump legacy.” —Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William Boykin
“The consequences of such unreliability from the Oval [Office] will reverberate well beyond Syria. The value of an American handshake is depreciating. Trump today said we could “crush ISIS again” if it regenerated. With who? What allies would sign up? Who would fight on his assurances?” —Brett McGurk, former
“Trump’s decision both to withdraw U.S. forces and green light a Turkish incursion not only promises a revival of the Islamic State and renewed conflict in one of the only peaceful parts of Syria, but it likely also foreshadows terrorism and civil war inside Turkey.” —Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official.
The situation in Syria will get deadlier and more complicated in the days following President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops. For a better understanding of this high-stakes region and the fallout of the Syria pullout, I recommend the following extra-curricular reading:
Trump’s Syria decision will be responsible for ISIS 2.0 by Michael Rubin in Washington Examiner
Hard Truths in Syria: America Can’t Do More With Less, and It Shouldn’t Try by Brett McGurk in Foreign Affairs
With Friends Like Us, Wall Street Journal editorial board