Some think that the winner of a presidential election can decide, on his or her own, the policies of the government he or she will lead. I do not support the idea that a victory is a blank check, because during the campaign, citizens’ demands arise that limit future government action. Even more important, objective national interest should govern action. However, campaign promises and national interest are not always compatible, and the one may undermine the other. An example of this is Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Even if this action fits right in with his “America First” isolationism and nativism, it damages the geostrategic interests of the country, which his followers don’t understand, and he doesn’t either. The Democratic reaction was negative, but so was the Republican reaction.
The most recent U.S. military presence in Syria originated in its involvement in Afghanistan (since 1978) and Iraq (since 1990). Its earlier origins go back to the end of World War II, to the partition of Palestine (1947), to the alliances with Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran, and, of course, to oil. This was not fortuitous or accidental; it was the result of geopolitical rivalries and hegemonic ambitions considered to be in the national interest. The brutal conflict in Syria has played out in the context of that complex equation. What stands out here are the Arab Spring, the uprising against dictator Bashar al-Assad and the creation of the disastrous Islamic State by jihadist terrorists. Over a period of eight years, there was a bloody war of all against all, with more than 1,000 rebel groups involved. More than half a million people died, and 12 million were displaced. Assad was backed by Iran; the terrorist group, Hezbolla; and Russia, while his opponents were backed by the U.S., U.K., France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain, and Turkey, as well as by the Kurds. The Kurds are a stateless nation of 30 million who, after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, were scattered in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Turkey has opposed the establishment of a country of their own for the Kurds (Kurdistan), and has been fighting the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
The Kurds, united in the “Democratic Union Party,” have received money, arms and training from Washington; they have become the most effective ally in the fight against the now almost extinct Islamic State. Despite the fact that the conflict is not completely over, Trump rushed to keep his promise to bring home U.S. forces in Syria (2,000 troops). That announcement and a telephone conversation with Turkish President Erdogan left the door open for the Turkish army to attack the Kurds along the border with Iraq. When those few U.S. soldiers were withdrawn from this zone, where they had established an important symbolic equilibrium, Turkey invaded Iraq, the Kurds were weakened, the U.S. was displaced, Russia consolidated its presence in the area and the resurgence of the IS terrorists was facilitated.
The campaign promise, which was made a priori without in-depth knowledge of the issues, was incompatible with the geopolitical interests of the U.S. and with international security. Although the troop withdrawal was intended mainly to influence the election, it caused discomfort among congressional Republicans, who accused Trump of betraying the Kurds, destabilizing the region, giving a greater role to Russia and undermining the prestige of the U.S. In his obsession to be reelected and avoid impeachment, the unpredictable Trump is prepared to do anything, but his disloyal and opportunistic behavior is now looking counterproductive.
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