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A Coward’s Retreat

A couple of weeks ago, President Donald Trump announced that he would pull U.S. troops out of northeast Syria, the previous epicenter of Islamic State’s (IS) extremist caliphate that managed to take over large portions of Syria and Iraq. The U.S. military stressed long ago that IS was not “defeated” and that thousands of ex-fighters are still on the loose inside Syria.

President Trump’s order to abandon the United States allies in the region, most prominently the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has allowed Turkey’s despot Recep Erdogan, to launch a full scale invasion of northern Syria. Furthermore, the Syrian government will escape accountability for its war crimes and Russia will further divide NATO to its advantage. This act of cowardice from a President who touts his supposed toughness is an abdication of responsibility to our own allies and for American leadership worldwide.

Most Bates students, just like the wider American electorate, care very little about American foreign policy. After all, we do have very pressing matters to attend to at home like income inequality, healthcare, and a presidential election right around the corner; not to mention the impeachment proceedings.

Still people might shrug and dismiss foreign policy, but I must ask the question: in an increasingly interconnected world, when do problems on the other side of the world become our problem? Does anyone remember the price of gas spiking at the end of September when Iran bombed the main Saudi oil processing facility? What that vague question was supposed to mean is this: someone else’s problem becomes our problem eventually.

The spike in gas prices could disrupt millions of lives, even yours. At an atheistic campus such as Bates, I will present this explanation for why people should people care about foreign policy: based on their mere material self interest. However, for those of you that hold faith in some higher power or ascribe to certain sets of morals, you know that standing by when violence is visited on your friends is as immoral an action as any.

Turkey’s despot, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has longed viewed the Kurdish ethnic minority with suspicion due to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) ongoing insurgency against the Turkish state since the late 1970s. The United State’s anti-IS coalition was heavily reliant on Kurdish military units under the SDF, most famously the People’s Protection Units (YPG), that were responsible for calling in U.S. airstrikes on IS positions and did the bulk of the work on the ground to defeat IS.

Now it seems that the Trump Administration is throwing the Kurds to the Turks to be slaughtered, even after the Kurds lost over 11,000 soldiers and hundreds of thousands of civilians to IS terrorists according to CNN. This move by President Trump was carried out by him despite opposition from officials in the U.S. military and his foreign policy team according to The Washington Post. Condemnation for this selfish act of cowardice has come from across the political aisle, including from the Presidents allies.

Democrats and Republicans were united in their condemnation of Trump’s abandoning of our Kurdish allies. John Shimkus (R-IL) called the action “despicable” and went further than most Congressional Republicans in pulling his support for the President over “stabbing our allies in the back.”

Prominent Trump ally and foreign policy hawk Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called the pullback “short sighted, irresponsible,” and would give IS fighters “a new lease on life.” Graham joined with Senator Chris van Hollen (D-MD) to introduce legislation to suspend Turkey from NATO and implement sanctions targeting Turkey’s leaders and military assets. Senator Susan Collins blasted Trump’s actions, saying that “the Kurds will be slaughtered.”

But perhaps the most damning rebuke to President Trump came from an anonymous U.S. Special Forces soldier on the ground in Northeast Syria through Fox News. The soldier emphasized that “the Kurds were pleading for our support…no other partner I have ever dealt with would stand by us…I am ashamed for the first time in my career.”

Truly, leaving the Kurds to be slaughtered by the Turks evokes a similar moral failure of the United States turning its back on the thousands of Jews that attempted to enter the country to escape Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. This betrayal comes even after Kurdish spies led an American special forces unit to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, resulting in his death. This fractured world that we have witnessed because of the Trump administration shows just how badly American leadership is needed in the world and how quickly autocrats expand their repression in our absence.

At the end of the day it is Bashar al-Assad’s blood-drenched regime and Russia that come out on top in the Middle East. Assad has now regained more territory in a few days then he previously had in four years thanks to Trump’s retreat. It is beginning to look like Tulsi Gabbard’s preferred despot might actually escape justice for his numerous war crimes.

Putin’s Russia takes home two wins by preserving their client Assad’s government, while also taking America’s place as the regional peacemaker. On top of that, millions more innocent civilians will be killed or displaced thanks to President Trump’s negligence. What you see unfolding in northern Syria is a world in which America does not lead. It is a world in which chaos and suffering have increased and totalitarian regimes repress and kill those who oppose them with no accountability. No nation has stepped up to replace the missing Uncle Sam.

I will ask you Bates students, where are those countries that claim that they would be a more responsible and respectable leader of the international community? It appears that the cowardice exhibited by President Trump is more commonplace among the world’s leaders than I thought.

Roy Mathews
Assistant Forum Editor

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