I’ve been hesitant to comment on the U.S. troop withdrawal from northern Syria until now because I was conflicted.
Like many Americans, I support President Trump’s stated goal of extricating us from foreign entanglements as much as possible, and especially removing ground forces from harm’s way when they have no definable mission other than waiting to see if anyone shoots at them.
On the other hand, I have been sympathetic to the Kurds, who have helped us to restore peace in Iraq and to defeat ISIS in Syria. Moreover, I am no fan of Turkey and its Islamist autocrat, Recep Erdogan.
So when Erdogan announced his intention to invade northern Syria in order to establish a zone to which Syrian refugees could be repatriated, my first instinct was “Hell, no.”
But wait a minute. Turkey is a NATO member. Were we prepared to go to war with an ally to defend this strip of land held by the Kurds? Even if the Turks had an ulterior motive of seeking to punish their traditional enemy, the Kurds, were we willing to sacrifice American lives to take sides in that conflict?
Also, how exactly do we distinguish between the U.S. invading Syria several years earlier for our “national interest” and what the Turks are doing now for their own perceived “national interest”?
Certainly, we do not always go to war to protect people from invasion. As an example, we did not go to war with Israel when it invaded Lebanon in 1982. Many more such examples could be provided.
But then there are the Kurds...
We don’t want them to become the victims of genocide the way the Armenians were at the hands of the Turks in the last century, but what kind of commitment can Americans make to police Syria into the foreseeable future? Are we supposed to keep our soldiers at risk forever to prevent war between enemies who have irreconcilable differences?
Wow! No wonder I didn’t want to weigh in. Add to that the questionable decision of the U.S. to throw its support behind the effort to overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria since 2011, and the well-known neocon support for military intervention as the solution of first resort in every case, and you can start to see the conundrum that confronted President Trump when faced with the prospect of drawing a new red line in northern Syria and daring Turkey to cross it.
President Trump defended himself Wednesday during a joint press conference with the prime minister of Italy, and explained that he had made a decision that was aligned with his long-stated policy position and which he believed would save American lives:
“When I ran, I ran on a basis we’re going to bring our great soldiers back home where they belong. We don’t have to fight these endless wars. … I want to bring our soldiers back home. We’re not a police force. We’re a fighting force. We’re the greatest fighting force ever. We have a great modern military, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to waste it. It doesn’t mean we’re going to deplete it like we did before with these crazy endless wars. … We’re 7,000 miles away. I campaigned on bringing our soldiers back home and that’s what I’m doing.”
Imagine if John Kennedy had done that in Vietnam, as many historians believe he was on the verge of doing when he was assassinated. More than 50,000 American lives saved. Imagine if George W. Bush had withdrawn from Iraq after accomplishing our stated goal of forcing the collapse of the Saddam Hussein government and establishing that there were no weapons of mass destruction. More than 4,000 American lives saved. Imagine if Barack Obama had withdrawn from Afghanistan as he said he would do. Another 1,200 or more American lives saved. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of native lives lost in those conflicts as a result of American presidents wielding American power overseas.
Yet when President Trump announced he was pulling back a few dozen soldiers in Syria, the amnesiac Washington establishment rose up almost in unison to condemn him for not standing firm against Turkey, as if heightening tensions in the short term would somehow provide a long-term solution that did not inevitably lead to U.S. forces engaged in yet another ground war in Asia.
Are any of those high and mighty senators willing to start World War III to support the Kurds? Turkey is supposed to be a crucial ally. Are we willing to push them toward Russia or China instead? Let’s not forget that Russia is already in Syria and Iran is in Syria. Let’s not forget that Israel has a vested interest in the outcome of any shooting war in the region. Let’s also not forget that Saudi Arabia is already on the brink of war with Iran. And let’s not forget how treaties and national interests and hot blood led to the carnage of World War I.
Let’s not go that way again.
President Trump has held the sword of economic sanctions over the head of Erdogan and the Turkish people. It may not be as immediate a threat as cruise missiles, but it is less likely to tip us into a regional conflagration that could cost innumerable lives.
But that’s clearly not good enough for the warmongers in Congress. The House voted 354-60 to condemn the president’s decision to withdraw forces from Syria. Tell you what, if they really want to have an impact, let them vote to declare war on Turkey, because that’s the real meaning of siding with the Kurds.
Instead of rattling their sabers, you would think that Democrats (and more than a few Republicans) would eventually come to the same conclusion as me — that American power is best wielded on behalf of the greatest chance of peace rather than the best chance of war.
It would also be encouraging to see our other allies in NATO and the Mideast step out of the shadows and make their own commitments to either protect the Kurds with military force or to support President Trump’s goal of limiting violence by gearing down U.S. engagement in the powder keg that is Syria.
We have now seen the warning letter President Trump sent to Erdogan. The corrupt media wondered if it might be fake, apparently because they thought it should be couched in more “diplomatic” language. But as for me and the other Deplorables whose children inevitably turn out to be cannon fodder, it struck just the right tone:
“History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way,” Trump wrote to Erdogan. “It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!”
That last part could just as equally have been addressed to the tough guys in Congress and the military-industrial complex who think war is the solution to every problem: Don’t be fools!
Frank Miele, the retired editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell Mont., is a columnist for RealClearPolitics. His new book — “The Media Matrix: What If Everything You Know Is Fake” — is available at Amazon. Visit him at HeartlandDiaryUSA.com to read his daily commentary or follow him on Facebook @HeartlandDiaryUSA or on Twitter @HeartlandDiary.