Despite Trump’s weird elevation of Russia (!) to top billing in his acknowledgments, it is impossible not to describe this operation as underscoring the disastrous decisions Trump has made.
Starting with the Kurds (whom Trump put far down in the list of thank-yous), Trump has just consigned these allies who still work alongside us to ethnic cleansing. What was the purpose of selling out the Kurds and depriving ourselves of assistance going forward? Not only will they not physically occupy a critical space for counterterrorism operations, but they also may come to see other powers as far more reliable allies, dimming their enthusiasm for future joint operations.
Second, Trump’s chaotic non-policy, in which he pulled out troops assisting the Kurds but now has been maneuvered by crafty military leaders to reintroduce troops to guard oil fields, is utterly incoherent. The New York Times reports:
Critics of the president’s decision to withdraw American forces quickly argued that the operation took place in spite of, not because of, Mr. Trump and that if the military had not slow-rolled his plan to withdraw, the raid would not have been possible. Rather than justifying a pullout, they said, the raid underscored the importance of maintaining an American military presence in Syria and Iraq to keep pressure on the Islamic State.“We must keep in mind that we were able to strike Baghdadi because we had forces in the region,” said Representative Michael Waltz, Republican of Florida and a former Army Green Beret. “We must keep ISIS from returning by staying on offense.”
Remarkably, Trump’s actions increased the risk to our forces. “Mr. Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw American forces from northern Syria disrupted the meticulous planning and forced Pentagon officials to press ahead with a risky, night raid before their ability to control troops and spies and reconnaissance aircraft disappeared, according to military, intelligence and counterterrorism officials,” a New York Times report explains. “Mr. al-Baghdadi’s death, they said, occurred largely in spite of Mr. Trump’s actions.” There is obviously no small amount of resentment from those charged with our national security that our commander in chief really does not have their backs.
This should be a lesson for Trump and for those in the Democratic Party promising an abrupt withdrawal from the Middle East, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) did in the last debate, that some military presence there is essential for defending ourselves and our allies against terrorist threats.
In a written statement, former vice president Joe Biden pointed out, “We cannot afford to get distracted or take our eye off the target. ISIS remains a threat to the American people and our allies, and we must keep up the pressure to prevent ISIS from ever regrouping or again threatening the United States.” He added, “That task is particularly important as the chaos of the past few weeks in northern Syria has jeopardized years of hard work and sacrifice by American and Kurdish troops to evict ISIS from its strongholds in Syria.”
Trump’s pullout, allowing scores of Islamic State fighters to escape, should be seen for what it is: a catastrophic blunder that endangers Americans.
Third, the CIA’s instrumental role in the operation highlights the agency’s professionalism and accuracy. Trump nevertheless continues to wage a war on the intelligence community, still insisting that it got it all wrong when it established beyond any reasonable doubt that Russia interfered with the 2016 election. Trump prefers to believe in a crackpot conspiracy theory that Ukraine was the source of interference and did so on behalf of Democrats. So which is it: Is the CIA, and the rest of our intelligence community, made up of seasoned and skilled professionals or some amateurs who cannot see what is in front of their noses?
Incidentally, this might be a good time for director Gina Haspel to take a more public role in defending the work of her employees against a presidential smear campaign. The intelligence community got it right in pinpointing blame in 2016 and continues to provide essential and reliable information vital to our national security. This cannot be repeated enough given Trump’s delusional worldview.
Unsurprisingly, Trump cast himself in the starring role in this operation and overshared details of the operation. If one looks more closely, however, that also should inform Congress of what not to do going forward. Trump’s cockeyed view of the Middle East falsely presumes the Islamic State is completely defeated and deems Russia, Turkey and Syria as reliable powers to manage things in our absence. That’s daft. We should be somewhat comforted by evidence that the military and intelligence community are working to thwart Trump’s impulsive orders as they carry on the bipartisan policy of counterterrorism, which, like it or not, requires a U.S. presence in the region. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hit the nail on the head when she said in a written statement: “Our military and allies deserve strong, smart and strategic leadership from Washington.” For that, unfortunately, we will need to wait until a new president is in the Oval Office.