No, President Trump did not make a "error" withdrawing his troops from northeastern Syria last week, as many have accused him. It's been a long time since wanted to do it. The mistake is that he does not understand and, above all, that he is uncomfortable with the consequences of his act.
The fateful call of 6 October with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, by which he gave him the green light to cross the Syrian border and crush the Kurds without the US lifting a finger, did more than no other historic initiative to demolish the post-World War II global order and isolate America from the rest of the world. Once again, it was Trump's goal since the day he set foot in the White House.
For a long time, one or more of his advisers -Jim Mattis, H.R. McMaster, John Bolton, or General Joseph Dunford-detained him or dissuaded him from retiring. Today, they are all gone and the advisors who replace them lack either the power, or the judge necessary to resist him.
Trump can believe that he is doing what needs to be done, that dropping the problems of the rest of the world is going "To restore his greatness to America". He does not realize that his country's power and wealth depend to a large extent on voluntary or coerced cooperation from other actors who defend his interests around the globe.
He is also blind to the fact-or he is reluctant to admit-that in reality he is not retiring from the rest of the world. On October 11, a few days after delivering our Kurdish allies to Turkey (and therefore all Syria to Bashar al-Assad and the Russians), Trump announced that he was sending 1,800 troops to Saudi Arabia.
But in his mind, the difference was huge: "Saudi Arabia, at my request, has agreed to pay us for everything we do for her, he told reporters. It's a first. We are sensitive to it. "
Basically, sending US troops abroad does not count as a commitment until taxpayers pay a penny. It's as if Trump is telling the world that the US military is now a mercenary force.
It's a message to all the countries where American soldiers are at least partly at our expense – because, for example, previous presidents felt it was in the US interest to leave them there, as they would do well to start rethinking their options for future security.
Trump has a habit of repealing treaties, reversing our commitments and alienating our allies. More than any other action, however, the betrayal of the Kurds must make everyone understand that as long as he is president and, who knows, maybe even after, there will be no reason to trust the United States in any field.
Blanc-seing to Turkey
This is not the first time that Western powers, including the United States, abandon the Kurds, but even by the yardstick of this sordid liabilities, this decision is staggering.
In the past five years, the main US mission in Syria has been to destroy the Islamic State's caliphate. It was the Kurds who provided the most powerful fighters, and 11,000 of them died in battle; the United States lost only eight soldiers.
And now, once the mission is almost complete, Trump allows Turkey to crush the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish militia that fought the hardest and paid the highest human price. stronger.
Turkish soldiers near the city of Manbij, northern Syria, on October 14, 2019. | Zein Al-Rifai / AFP
It is worth stressing again and again that the Turkish invasion is not an unpredictable side effect of Trump's withdrawal; it was an element explicit of his decision.
The official statement of the White House published on October 6 is very clear: "Turkey will soon implement its long-planned operation in northern Syria. The US armed forces will not support this operation and will not intervene, and US forces, after defeating the territorial "caliphate" of IS, will no longer stand in the immediate vicinity. "
Even by the most selfish standards in the world, this decision makes no sense. The SDF fighters monitored four detention camps containing more than 10,000 IS jihadists or sympathizers. They can not continue to keep them while defending themselves against the Turkish forces – and, in fact, more than 500 prisoners have already taken advantage of the chaos to escape.
That too, Trump knew it. When a journalist asked him where the terrorists were going, he replied with agonizing casualness: "Well, they're going to escape to Europe, that's where they want to go, they want to go home."
At the time for the transatlantic alliance. It was nice, the time it lasted.
Putin master of the game
Now, surprised that even the most loyal elements of the Republican Party are burning him down after this decision, Trump explains that he never wanted Turkey to send armed forces and that he worked valiantly with Senator Lindsey Graham (his most grieving service bootlick) to impose sanctions on the Erdoğan government.
These sanctions will have little or no effect, and in any case never fast enough to be of any importance – except to show the dictators who make hateful deals with Trump that even they can not trust him.
Meanwhile, the big winner of this transaction, apart from Erdoğan, is Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2018 again, Russia seemed less triumphant than stuck in Syria. His soldiers were the target of militia shootings, his planes were shot down, his only armed confrontation with US forces had proved disastrous; Iran seemed to be the main ally of Bashar al-Assad.
But today, it is indeed Russia which is the main external power not only in Syria, but more and more in the rest of the region.
When the Kurds were taken under fire from Turkey and realized that the United States would not react, they did the only thing possible to avoid annihilation: they turned to the Russians, who put an agreement allowing Assad's army to take control of northern Syria for the first time in years, while providing a protection zone (at least for now) to the remaining Kurds.
In an unparalleled series of events, Putin traveled to Saudi Arabia on Oct. 14, for the first time in more than a decade, to discuss investment opportunities and Moscow's brokerage role. could play to reduce tensions between Sunni Arab countries and Iran (his itinerary also includes a stop in the United Arab Emirates).
Vladimir Putin and King Salman of Saudi Arabia, October 14, 2019 in Riyadh. | Alexey Nikolsky / Sputnik / AFP
Diplomatic black hole
In one sense-and that's probably how Trump argues-all of this may be for the better: the Middle East is a nameless bazaar; if Putin and Assad can solve the problem, so much the better; and if they can not do it, we do not care until we're gone.
But in another sense, this type of reasoning is totally delusional. First, we are not going out at all. Then the rest of the world's eyes are on us.
In light of other troubled aspects of his relationship with Trump at the moment, Ukraine must be wondering whether it is wise to rely on the United States for help. Eastern NATO nations, especially the Baltic states, would have good reasons to look elsewhere for security assurances. Already, US traditional allies in Europe and Asia are exploring agreements on security and trade outside the US orbit.
A big question emerges from all this void: in what consists of US foreign policy and what are American interests – not in terms of idealized or historical concept, but concretely, as they exist at present? I do not know. Nobody knows it. It's a safe bet that our allies and opponents do not know either. "Strategic ambiguity" is one thing; but what we have in front of us right now is a huge black hole.
To the extent that Trump has a real foreign policy strategy, it seems to be dictated by one of these three desires: to enrich the financial wealth of his family, appease dictators who manipulate him by praising his wisdom and demolishing the diplomatic achievements of his family. predecessors, especially Barack Obama. All the rest – to consolidate alliances, protect democracy or human rights, even the stratagems of realpolitik international- is secondary or even counts for plums.
What the US allies may be wondering at the moment is: did Trump accomplish anything in the field of foreign policy that objectively served the security interests of his country? The question remains unanswered, and this observation is very disturbing.