Russian President Vladimir Putin must have broken out in a happy dance when President Trump announced over the Easter weekend that the U.S. was going to abandon its Kurdish allies in Syria. After all, Russia has been doing everything it can to dislodge the American-advised Kurds from the territory we helped them take from ISIS in the last couple of years.
Russian mercenaries even attacked U.S. and Kurdish forces at a joint base in Syria on February 7, suffering heavy casualties from American firepower. For the time being, that thwarted Russian aims to take over the Kurdish enclave and its oil resources in eastern Syria. The President’s announcement must have been music to Putin’s ears.
On the other hand, the Kurds saw the announcement as a betrayal of the first order. They had been encouraged into our fight against the Islamic State terrorists with promises by the Obama administration of military support and help to establish a safe enclave for the Kurds in eastern Syria. President Trump doubled down on those commitments when he came into office. The Kurdish forces worked in good faith to largely destroy the ISIS forces in Syria, suffering many casualties in the process.
It is not clear what prompted the withdrawal announcement. We do know that the President called Putin on March 20 to congratulate him on his election victory and invite him to the White House. It is certainly possible that Putin raised the issue of withdrawing American forces from Syria, but we may never know. What we do know is that the following week, the President froze spending of $200 million that had been intended to stabilize territory the Kurds seized from the terrorists. Then came the withdrawal notice.
Both military and civilian advisers urged that we continue our partnership with the Kurds until the last of the ISIS fighters were eliminated and a political settlement was reached that protected our Kurdish friends. They argued withdrawal would leave a void that Russia and Iran would gladly fill. The President ignored the advice to keep our commitments to these steadfast allies. It may have been a Fox and Friends episode on April 3, cautioning against precipitous withdrawal, that caused Trump to reconsider. Or perhaps the President took advice from candidate Trump, who railed against telegraphing military moves to adversaries. In any event, it does not appear now as if American abandonment of the Kurds will happen overnight, but it is coming soon.
Putin will have to wait a bit longer for what he, President Assad and the Iranians are hoping for — a withdrawal of American advisers and firepower so that they can go about finishing off our Kurdish friends. That would not only be a damnable betrayal of valiant people who stuck out their necks to help rid Syria of a deadly threat to America, but a signal to the rest of the world that America cannot be trusted. The message to other countries is that the U.S. will use you for its purposes, whatever the cost in blood you suffer, and then discard you like a dirty rag.
I developed a strong antipathy to betraying an ally in 1975, when the U.S. failed to lift a finger to help the South Vietnamese turn back an invasion from the North, despite President Nixon’s iron-clad promise that our air power would be there to protect them. And, we failed to make a concerted effort to evacuate our South Vietnamese friends and allies when collapse of their country was imminent. Many of my friends likely ended up being killed or persecuted for siding with us. Let’s not let it happen again.