In Which I Try to Make Sense of Donald Trump’s Middle East Policy

A Kurdish refugee in northern Syria watches airstrikes in the city of Kobani.Dimitrios Chantzaras/NurPhoto/ZUMA

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I’m sort of catching up on things, so tell me if I have this straight:

  • Trump talked to Turkey’s president last night and agreed to let him invade northern Syria if Turkey was willing to take a few thousand ISIS prisoners off our hands.
  • After the phone call, Trump decided to go a step further and withdraw all American forces from northern Syria, thus giving Turkey a completely free hand.
  • None of Trump’s aides or military advisors knew he was planning to do this.
  • Eventually someone explained to Trump that Turkey didn’t actually care about ISIS. They just wanted to wipe out the Kurds in northern Syria, who have fought along our side in the war against ISIS for many years. Turkey considers them terrorists.
  • Informed of this, Trump tweeted that, hey, we paid the Kurds plenty for their help, so everything is even. Besides, he implied, maybe Turkey has a point about the Kurds.
  • Even Republicans couldn’t stomach this, so Trump hastily tweeted that if anything bad happened, we could always “go back & BLAST!”
  • Republicans still couldn’t stomach this sellout, so then Trump tweeted that if Turkey does anything “off limits”—whatever that is—“I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey.”

And . . . I guess that’s where we stand. This is one of the things I hate most about Trump. I happen to favor troop withdrawals from the Middle East, which makes the situation with the Kurds a genuinely tough one in my mind. Somehow, though, even when Trump does something I generally favor, he does it so stupidly and ham-handedly that it’s almost as if he’s trying to prove the hawks were right all along.

This was never going to be an easy situation to wind down, but there were certainly ways to do it without destroying America’s reputation as a reliable ally. As of today, however, it looks like that ship has sailed.

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In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

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