Facing staunch backlash by Congress over his decision to pull back troops from northeastern Syria, U.S. President Donald Trump showed an inconsistent attitude yesterday, not only aiming to defend his announcement to withdraw, but also trying to find his way through the criticism by uttering threats against Turkey.
Following his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and announcing that Ankara is getting ready for an operation, Trump had to deal with a wide range of domestic protests, especially from Congress and the Pentagon, causing the president to step back while still trying to hold on to his initial decision.
Trump said Monday the U.S. was supposed to be in Syria for only 30 days many years ago. In his tweets, Trump also took aim at the PKK-affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG), touting his so-called efforts to halt a fight between Turkey and the YPG and went on to announce his decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria. Nearly four hours later, the U.S. president praised himself in a pair of tweets, saying he was elected to end the country's involvement in overseas wars and the military was depleted before he took the office. Later, Trump once more issued a warning on Twitter against Turkey. "As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I've done before!)," he said. However he added he has a "very good relationship" with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and is not siding with anybody in Syria.
He also defended Turkey yesterday once again on his social media, presenting the latest aspects of his contradictory stance against the country. "So many people conveniently forget that Turkey is a big trading partner of the United States, in fact they make the structural steel frame for our F-35 Fighter Jet. They have also been good to deal with, helping me to save many lives at Idlib Province, and returning, in very good health, at my request, Pastor Brunson, who had many years of a long prison term remaining. Also remember, and importantly, that Turkey is an important member in good standing of NATO. He is coming to the U.S. as my guest on November 13th. #ENDENDLESSWARS," the president said.
According to an official who spoke to The Associated Press (AP), Trump's tweets were an "exercise in damage control," in order to ease the backlash he received but his attempt, the official said, failed. A surprising element regarding the criticism was that the U.S. president not only received threats from the Democrats but also from his fellow Republicans. Mitch McConnell, the head of the Republicans in the Senate and a major supporter of Trump said, "As we learned the hard way during the Obama administration, American interests are best served by American leadership, not by retreat or withdrawal," adding that such a move would only benefit Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime.
Another Trump supporter, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina defined Trump's move as "Shot in the arm to the bad guys." Speaking to Fox News, Graham said that letting Turkey conduct an operation in the region "would be a mistake of historic proportion," threatening the country's NATO membership. Graham's statements were regarded as "unexpected" by many as he is known for his pro-Turkey stance.
"A catastrophic mistake," said Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 House Republican leader. While another Republican Senator Chris Van Hollen said, "The Syrian Kurds stood with us in the fight against ISIS [Daesh] when Turkey did not. Trump's decision to betray them is unconscionable." The speaker of the house Democrat Nancy Pelosi, on the other hand, said that "the president's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria is a deeply disturbing development that betrays our Kurdish allies [referring to the YPG] who have been instrumental partners in our mission to eradicate ISIS." She further defined the move as a "reckless, misguided decision."
"Once again, President Trump is deserting an ally in a foolish attempt to appease an authoritarian strongman. By turning operational responsibility over to the Turks, President Trump has abandoned our Kurdish partners," she said, overlooking Turkey's position as a NATO ally.
Nikki Haley, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also pretended as if the YPG terrorists were the only allies of the U.S., ignoring Turkey, a legitimate state. She said the U.S. "must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back... Leaving them to die is a big mistake."
The Pentagon also took a stance against Trump and Turkey, saying that they do not support a Turkish military operation.
"The U.S. Armed Forces will not support, or be involved in any such operation," said Jonathan Hoffman, secretary of defense for Public Affairs.
SUPPORT and CRITICISM on decısıonTrump also retweeted half a dozen Twitter posts defending his announcement. One his retweets was of Michael Doran, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute. The retweeted tweet accused the U.S. of having partnered with the terror group PKK and not the Kurds. It reflected what Turkey had been telling its NATO ally for many years, specifcally that the U.S.' allies in Syria, namely the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which are dominated by the YPG, are linked to the PKK.
Doran said the former administration of U.S. President Barack Obama had sown the seeds of a conflict between Turkey and the PKK in northern Syria. "We aligned under Obama not with ‘the Kurds,' but with the PKK, the sworn enemy of the Turkish Republic, our ally. We were sowing the seeds of a Turkish-PKK war with that policy. We were also driving Turkey toward Russia," Doran said on Twitter.
Doran, who served in the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush as a senior director in the National Security Council, also criticized Graham for his stance. He said Graham needs Turkey and Saudi Arabia if he wants to contain the threat to the region emanating from Iran. Meanwhile, Trump's initial stance toward Turkey not only got criticism but also support.
Political analyst at the U.S.-based think tank Heritage Foundation, Luke Coffey, warned Americans of the YPG threat and said he is not "comfortable arming and training a Marxist group with links to terrorism."
"Regarding U.S. troops in Syria it is alarming how little debate there was in America about supporting the YPG. Call me old fashion, but I'm not comfortable arming and training a Marxist group with links to terrorism. I'm sure most Americans would feel same way too if they knew," Coffey tweeted Monday.
He added that the Americans should welcome Turkey's steps to eliminate legitimate security concerns along its long border with Syria.
"We should welcome Turkey taking steps to secure its border. The U.S. can't do it forever. They have legitimate security concerns," he said and informed Americans about the real nature of the YPG. "Also, the YPG is a neo-Marxist group that serves as the Syrian branch of the PKK (designated a terrorist group by the U.S. gov't). So please spare me the tears," he said.
In the heat of Trump's withdrawal announcement during the day, U.K.-based political analyst Kyle Orton slammed Haley for siding with the terror group over a NATO ally.
"Nikki Haley might also explain at some point how she proposes to run an international order where terrorists the U.S. aligned with for contingent reasons become ‘allies,' and states that the U.S. is bound by treaty to defend with nuclear weaponry if necessary become ‘not our friend,'" Orton said on Twitter.