In the president’s telling, he brilliantly brokered a peace in northeastern Syria that allows Turkey to have the safe zone it sought while protecting the Kurds with whom the United States was allied, and keeping thousands of Islamic State prisoners locked down. “This was an outcome created by us, the United States, and nobody else,” he said Wednesday.
In reality, the cease-fire was brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin after Russian and Syrian government forces took over the bases that Mr. Trump ordered abandoned. According to the State Department’s Syrian envoy, at least 100 Islamic State terrorists are, so far, unaccounted for. And Turkish-led forces on Thursday and Friday continued to assault Kurdish villages, forcing thousands of civilians to flee.
In Mr. Trump’s world, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has kept his word, and thus there is no need for U.S. sanctions against his government. In the real Syria, according to Mr. Esper, Turkey has put the United States and its NATO allies in a “terrible situation” by striking a deal that empowers Russia, Iran and the blood-soaked Damascus government of Bashar al-Assad.
Mr. Trump seems to believe that if he simply proclaims his alternate facts often and loudly enough, his followers will be satisfied, or at least confused. But that won’t change the loss the United States has suffered in the Middle East, or prevent further disasters in the coming weeks.
One question is whether Mr. Erdogan will actually stop his offensive against the Kurds, or continue what some suspect might become an ethnic cleansing campaign — with the fleeing Kurds replaced by Arab Syrian refugees now living in Turkey. That will depend mostly on Mr. Putin and the Assad regime; Mr. Trump has ceded all U.S. leverage.
A second question is whether, and for how long, the United States will be able to hold on to the oil fields it aspires to “protect,” nominally from a resurgent Islamic State. Now that Russian and Syrian forces have moved into the region and occupied its major towns, that might prove difficult. Previously, de facto control of eastern Syria gave the United States a powerful bargaining chip in any settlement of the Syrian war. Now Russia is likely to control the shape of any peace deal.
For Mr. Trump, Syria has been “a big success” and “the Kurds are safe and have worked very nicely with us.” In the real world, the U.S. troops he yanked from the region were pelted with vegetables and trash as they drove away. It’s a humiliation from which the United States will not soon recover.