It Looks Worse on the Ground
Terry H. Schwadron
Oct. 22, 2019
As a voter and citizen, I’m upset that Donald Trump has no idea what he is doing with the U.S. military, that he lacks empathy and that he doesn’t seem to care about the effects of his theoretical chess board moves.
Imagine what it must feel like to be an American Marine, soldier or airman at this moment — or their families back home.
In just days, Trump has told up to 1,500 Americans that they are being withdrawn from combat roles and brought home from Syria, opening the country to slaughter of the estimated two million allied Kurds, and requiring U.S. bombers to launch sufficient pinpoint missiles to blow up munitions at U.S. bases.
It was most important, he said, to bring Americans home. It must have been most important because he said so four years ago while campaigning for office. He said it was more important for them to come home from “endless wars” than to offer a buffer that would keep Turkey from marauding the Kurds. Instead, he compared the Turks and Kurds as schoolyard foes who need to fight every once in a while before being separated, as if that explained the start of killings and removal of Kurdish residents to, well, nowhere.
Then, perhaps a day later, the president said he was sending 2,800 troops to Saudi Arabia — to help protect Saudi oil fields. We’re skipping over the idea that Saudis are perfectly capable of putting together their own defense, and that, in any case, standing picket duty was not going to stop incoming missiles.
Now we discover that the Defense Secretary, Mark Espers, has already ordered the Syrian troops into Iraq (Did Iraq ask? Was there another phone call with Iraq? Did the President get them to commit to find Biden dirt first?) — — again to protect oil fields, not people. The idea is that ISIS warriors who are busy escaping from prisons where they had been held by Kurdish fighters, who need to worry about other things suddenly, might get together and attack the oil fields. Indeed, the last raid on Iraqi oil fields apparently involved Russian-led mercenaries rather than ISIS.
But those are all details.
Only Trump says he wants none of it. He apparently had to stop himself from overruling Esper (or “Esperanto,” as he termed him in a tweet).
At the White House, Trump said, “Well, they’re going to be sent initially to different parts, a different method,” Trump said. “Ultimately, we’re bringing them home.” According to a White House pool report, Trump said of America’s allies in Syria, “We never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives.”
Is anyone in charge at the White House? Has it occurred to the president or his team to decide the goal first, and then to act? If he cannot connect dots from the battlefield, how can he deal with Turkish demands for a nuclear weapon?
(The Trump comments were among his most understandable of a 70-minutes White House diatribe against a “phony” emoluments clause, against impeachment efforts and against not being able to “run the country.”)
In fact, any sense of protection will probably run out this morning, when the U.S.-requested “cease-fire,” which Turkey notes is more of a pause in the fighting, expires.
Meanwhile, U.S. forces could be seen withdrawing from areas where Kurds live. The troops were bombarded by rotten tomatoes and potatoes in one town, an expression of anger. They left a base in Turkey and rolled into the Iraqi Kurdish city of Erbil.
Thousands of refugees are also flooding across the border into Iraq, doubtful that the ceasefire will hold, and unsure of what will happen next. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, says 120 civilians have been killed since Turkey began the operation. The group says 300,000 people have been displaced by the violence.
Kurdish commander Mazlum Kobani is predicting his people will be slaughtered.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reporters say American forces and their Kurdish-led partners in Syria have stopped as many as a dozen counterterrorism missions a day against Islamic State militants, officials said. Those same partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces, had also been quietly releasing some Islamic State prisoners and incorporating them into their ranks, in part as a way to keep them under watch. That, too, is now in jeopardy. And across Syria’s porous border with Iraq, Islamic State fighters are conducting a campaign of assassination against local village headmen, in part to intimidate government informants.
On the ground, all this looks very different from the cross-purpose posturing in the Whtie House.