The unnecessary destructiveness of Donald Trump’s decision to abandon and betray America’s Kurdish allies in Syria could all have been avoided according to a National Security Council official who was involved in developing contingency plans for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region.
The NSC staff had been hard at work in the weeks preceding the impulsive determination by the president to remove the protective barrier of American forces between the Kurds and their traditional antagonists, the Turks, drafting plans for an “orderly withdrawal” from the region the official told Newsweek today.
The planning exercise was meant to prevent exactly the situation in which the area now finds itself — in a tumultuous and deadly fight to fill the vacuum in power precipitated by the unexpectedly hasty U.S. exit that Trump unilaterally decided upon without the input from National Security or Intelligence staff after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Erdoğan.
With Turkish, Russian, and Syrian government troops all jockeying to replace the retreating Americans and high-value ISIS prisoners escaping from detention after their Kurdish guards were pulled away to defend their territory, experienced senior U.S. military officials and foreign policy professionals are devastated that Trump ignored their carefully-considered strategies designed to forestall the chaos that has ensued.
The NSC official’s comments to Newsweek on the president’s ill-considered actions were scathing.
“‘Abandoning almost five years of training and development of an allied force, and gift-wrapping it for the Russians and Assad has been devastating to our morale,’ said the NSC official, who has direct knowledge of the U.S. evacuation efforts from northern Syria.”
“‘When you are the strongest nation on the planet militarily and diplomatically, there are so many different ways you cannot achieve the same result,’ the official said”
“‘If you’re asking why there is a morale problem,’ the official continued, ‘it is because of people in the NSC, working the region for the past several years across two different administrations, and are now seeing five years of work demolished inside three days.'”
“‘We have lost an invaluable strategic advantage in the region, and tarnished our reputation globally by abandoning the Kurds to be slaughtered by the Turks,’ the official added. ‘Furthermore, we gain nothing in return.'”
The official said that the administration’s defense team had offered Trump multiple options for a careful and measured exit from Syria, plans that ranged from one month to six months to execute and included a strategy of “putting economic and diplomatic pressure on Turkey in order to maintain the security buffer zone long enough for the U.S. to work on a U.N. peacekeeping force replacing our forces.”
Representative Rueben Gallego (D-AZ), a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a former Marine who served in Iraq, told Newsweek:
“The president is treating a 30-year ally like he’s firing a cabinet member. It wouldn’t surprise me morale is low among DoD staffers, somebody who has 5x deferment has come away and taken away the honor of this military,” he added. “We have people who have served with the Kurds and he has wiped away that in one tweet.”
Trump’s instability has led Gallego to warn that “we can’t trust any readouts” from the White House because “the circle around the president is many yes-women and [yes-]men, and even when they oppose him they are allowing the record to reflect otherwise.”
“I don’t trust any of the readouts I’ve received,” he said to Newsweek. “For example, that DoD didn’t have a strong reaction to the Syria pullout. If [Defense Secretary Mark] Esper was in line with this, he is not in line to be SecDef. He is not in line with DoD thinking and strategic thinking. The senators who are registering opposition should deny him his post,” he said.
Congressman Gallego wasn’t the only one warning of the dangers of Trump’s failure to involve the national security apparatus in his decision-making process.
“Policy morale is super low,” Evelyn Farkas, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia. “The read-outs have not been accurate for quite a while. So when news broke it was nothing new to them. They had been living in an alternative universe for quite some time. They have been living in the dark for quite some time now, and when it comes to light it’s disturbing,” she noted.
National security staff may be getting used to being ignored by the willfully impulsive president, but the American people need to be aware that they are being misled by someone who rejects the advice of experienced professionals and relies on his own mythical “stable genius” instead.
That the results have been disastrous for both the Kurds and for America should come as no surprise to anyone, particularly since those results perfectly fulfill the agenda of the Kremlin and Trump’s election patron Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The existence of contingency plans to prevent the current mess, however, places the blame for the destruction that followed in the wake of the president’s feckless choice squarely at his own feet.
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Original reporting by James LaPorta, Tom O’Connor, and Naveed Jamali at Newsweek.