On Monday, Oct. 7, the American president announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria, before backpedaling in response to the outcry that this decision provoked. But the damage has been done.
Since arriving in the White House, Donald Trump has often acted on whims, making more reversals and snap decisions than most presidents. But the confusion that he sowed concerning the withdrawal of American forces from certain areas of northern Syria sought after by Turkey is unheard of and unprecedented. By not only provoking the shock of American allies and his own administration, but also of his own political party, something we do not see often, the American president has weakened the credibility of the world’s largest power.
“[I]t is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal,” announced Trump on Monday, Oct. 7. Not long before, a White House press release had announced that the United States would leave the field open for Turkey, thus abandoning Kurdish forces, who have taken on the main part of the battle against the Islamic State, to their fate.
Once again, one can imagine that this decision, full of consequences for the region, was made on the basis of considerations related to domestic politics. Trump is running for a second term and wants to show his base that he keeps his promises. It is also a distraction, as the president is threatened by an impeachment inquiry for having blackmailed the Ukrainian president to investigate his likely 2020 rival Joe Biden’s son.
Paris’ Difficult Situation
The outcry provoked by the announcement of the hasty withdrawal of American troops forced Trump to backpedal, adding confusion to incompetence. Even though the president later that day stopped talking about the departure of dozens of Special Forces members, the damage has been done on the diplomatic front. The sequence of events forced the Pentagon to affirm that it does not support Turkish intervention in northern Syria, saying that the operation came with “destabilizing consequences” for the region. This call back to order from the secretary of defense to the president says a lot about the chaos unleashed in Washington.
This mess diminishes slightly more the confidence that the Kurds can have in those who have vowed to protect them. “It is an ally’s duty to be trustworthy,” Emmanuel Macron insisted in December, when Trump announced for the first time his intention to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria. The French president, with the help of the Pentagon and the CIA, had at the time convinced his American counterpart not to go through with the withdrawal, a move that also would have involved the withdrawal of French special forces, as they were not numerous enough and did not have sufficient resources to remain on their own.
The difficult situation that Paris, the Western capital most involved in helping the Kurds, finds itself in is all the more obvious. In April, Macron held a meeting at the Elysee Palace with a delegation of Rojava leaders representing the autonomous Kurdish region of northeastern Syria, promising them Paris’ full support. Such a promise now runs the risk of ringing hollow. France is contemplating a withdrawal from the Syrian conflict, as it depends on an unpredictable and largely untrustworthy ally.
Beyond not keeping its word, America has shown other signs of disengagement that only favor the resurgence of the Islamic State group against a backdrop of chaos in the region. “The biggest lie being told by the administration is that ISIS is defeated,” said Lindsey Graham, a stalwart of the Republican majority in the Senate. Just another lie, but this one could have immeasurable consequences.