The U.S. president's abrupt decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria was short-lived. But backpedal as he might, the damage is already done.
PARIS — Since his arrival at the White House, Donald Trump has often acted recklessly, making one sudden U-turn and impromptu decision after the other. But the confusion he has sown when he announced that U.S. forces were pulling out from parts of northern Syria coveted by Turkey is something entirely new.
Not only has it left U.S. allies flabbergasted, but even his own administration and, maybe for the first time, members of his own political camp are struggling to comprehend how the U.S. president could weaken the word of the world's leading power in such manner.
"It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal," Donald Trump tweeted on Monday. Shortly before, a White House statement announced that the United States would make way for Turkish forces, thus leaving the Kurdish forces to fend for themselves after having carried most of the load in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group.
Once again, it's easy to see how this decision — and its far-reaching consequences in the region — stemmed from considerations linked to U.S. domestic policy. Donald Trump is campaigning for his second term and wants to show his constituents that he keeps his promises. It is also a diversion, as the U.S. president faces the threat of impeachment for pressuring the Ukrainian president to investigate the son of his rival Joe Biden.
It is also a diversion.
The outcry over the announcement of the sudden withdrawal then forced Donald Trump to backpedal, adding confusion to ineptitude. Even if the president, later in the day, spoke of the departure of only a few dozen members of the special forces, the diplomatic damage was done.
The declaration forced the Pentagon to state that it does not endorse Turkish intervention in northern Syria, saying that such an operation would have "possible destabilizing consequences' for the region. This reminder from the Department of Defense to its president speaks volumes about the kind of chaos at play in Washington.
Trump meeting with senior military leaders at the White House on Oct. 7 — Photo: Shealah Craighead/Planet Pix/ZUMA
The confusion chips away a bit more at the Kurds' trust in those who had pledged to protect them. "An ally must be reliable," Emmanuel Macron firmly insisted last December, when Donald Trump first hinted at his intention to withdraw U.S. forces from northeastern Syria.
The French president, with support from the Pentagon and the CIA, managed at that point to convince his American counterpart to think twice about pulling out from the region — as it would have also led to the withdrawal of French special forces that would not have been able to remain on their own.
One more lie, then.
The embarrassment is all the more tangible in Paris, the western capital that is most committed to defending the Kurdish cause. In April, Emmanuel Macron welcomed a delegation of leaders from Rojava, the Kurdish autonomous region of Syria, promising them full support. Those may be nothing but words, now. France risks thus being sidelined in the Syrian conflict, tied as it is to its unpredictable and unreliable American ally.
Beyond the failure to keep one's promises, any sign of American disengagement in the region can only breed chaos and favor the ensuing resurgence of ISIS. "The biggest lie being told by the administration is that ISIS has been defeated," said Lindsey Graham, one of the pillars of the Republican majority in the Senate. It's one among a multitude of lies, but may well have unfathomable consequences.