Prologue: Monday, October 7, 2019 began a wild week seen in headlines from The New York Times:
October 8, 2019, “Backtracking on Syria, President Mixes Signals, Inciting G.O.P. fury.”
October 10, 2019: “Turkey Attacks U.S. Ally in Syria”
October 14, 2019: “Syrian Forces Rush Into U.S. Void”
History: United States policy under Presidents Obama and Bush has been to destroy ISIS in the Middle East. The Kurds have been allies of U. S. troops in the region for years in this ongoing struggle. When Trump was elected, he did not support this policy. He had said he would stop “endless wars” which cost millions and vowed to pull our troops from Syria. Secretary of Defense James Mattis strongly disagreed with this and resigned his position.
Trump Moves to Leave Syria: On Sunday, October 6 in a White House Statement, Trump said it was time “ for us to get out” and let others “figure the situation out”. On Monday, October 7, he met with senior military leaders at the White House while Republicans in Congress angrily attacked his decision. They had supported U.S. troops fighting Isis as had most Democrats. Senator Lindsay Graham, Republican Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, finally took a stand against Trump on this issue. He said, “It was the most screwed up decision I’ve ever seen in all my years in Congress.”
Our Allies overseas spoke out strongly against our withdrawal from the battle against Isis. They warned that Turkey would be ready to move into the region and destroy the Kurds , considered their enemy. The Kurds actually had 800 ISIS fighters and their families in a prison camp.
Trump heard them and said he would restrain Turkey. Here is his exact statement written on Twitter: “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy the economy of Turkey. (I’ve done before.”)
On October 9, he wrote a letter to President Erdogan of Turkey which ended with “ Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool. “ At the bottom was a note, “ I’ll call you later. “
Turkish troops enter Syria on Wednesday, October 9.
They launched an air and ground attack against a Syrian Kurdish militia that had been fighting ISIS. Trump called the assault “a Bad Idea”. He had talked by telephone with the Turkish president on Sunday, agreeing to move American troops out despite opposition from the State Department and his own military leaders.
Tuesday, October 15: NYT Headline: “Syrian Forces Rush Into U.S. Void” President al-Assad of Syria, considered a war criminal by the U.S. moved in to protect the Kurdish Militia. Middle East analysts say that United States Troops leaving will also benefit Russia and Iran.
Thursday, October 17:”New York Times: ‘ President Digs in on Syria Pullout As House Revolts”
Richard Engel, MSNBC in Syria, reported on TV that the Kurds were leaving their homes and walking away from the Turkish attacks along the Northern border. President Erdogan of Turkey was talking about “ethnic cleansing” of the Kurds a long time enemy.
In The United States, president Trump was attending a rally where he said “The Kurds are no angels”… without explaining why he used that label. They had lost over ten thousand troops fighting ISIS to support U.S. troops. It appears Trump had been told an unsupported story that the Kurds killed Christians!
At the White House, the next day, he said, “ That has nothing to do with us. What does that have to do with us if they’re fighting over Syria’s land?” When pressed by reporters, he said, “I campaigned on a platform of “ending endless wars”. “let them fight their own wars. They’ve been fighting for a thousand years.”
In Congress, The House of Representatives took action with a bipartisan vote rebuking Trump for his approval of Turkey attacking the Kurds in Syria. 129 Republicans joined the Democrats. This was a significant number; only 60 did not sign.
In the Senate, Mitch McConnell, Majority leader opened his weekly news conference, by “expressing his gratitude to the Kurds”. He added, “I’m sorry we are where we are.” Senator Lindsey Graham wrote on Twitter, “I hope President Trump is right in his belief that Turkey’s invasion of Syria is of no concern to us, abandoning the Kurds won’t came back to haunt us, ISIS will reemerge and Iran will fill the vacuum created by this decision. “
Trump decides to send Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo to Turkey to talk with Erdogan. The result of their meeting is a Cease Fire Declaration of five days.
October 16, 2019 White House Meeting between President Trump, Speaker of the House Pelosi, Minority Leader Schumer and leading Congressional Democratic and Republican members.
The meeting took place in The Cabinet Room at a very long table. Military leaders sat on the President’s right, including the Head of Joint Chiefs of Staff. Other officials sat on his left. Directly across from Trump was Nancy Pelosi. The picture that accompanied this story in The New York Times shows Pelosi standing and pointing at Trump who looks very displeased. The three generals are all looking down and have their hands tightly clasped; they appear to be ashamed of what they are hearing from the president about the furor over Syria.
When the picture was enlarged on TV during the day , it was clear that Trump looked very unhappy . One reporter commented, “Years from now, when that photo is shown it will be clear who is in charge of that meeting.”
Trump opened the meeting by saying to the Congressional members, “They said you wanted this meeting. I didn’t want this meeting.” Then he began a speech about a “nasty” letter he had sent to President Erdogan of Turkey. He directed Kevin Mc Carthy, Minority leader to pass out copies to everyone at the table. It began “ Let’s work out a good deal” and ending with “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool.”
A short time later, Pelosi told the president that The House had passed a bipartisan resolution with overwhelming Republican support that condemned his agreement to a Turkish assault against the Kurds who had been crucial American allies in the fight against ISIS.
She was followed by Schumer who appealed to Trump as a fellow New Yorker who had lived through 9/11. He spoke of terrorism and ISIS and cited “Someone no less than General Mattis has said that ISIS had been enhanced .” At the mention of Mattis, who had quit last year as Defense Secretary over Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria, the president began denigrating the retired four-star general’s approach to combating terrorism in the Middle East. Mr. Mattis was “the world’s most overrated general,” he said. “He wasn’t tough enough. I captured ISIS. Mattis said it would take two years. I captured them in one month.”
The ensuing back and forth between Pelosi, who had stood and pointed her finger at Trump as she spoke, went down hill rapidly from there. She was sitting when Democratic officials described “a fever pitch”. Pelosi told the president that Russia always wanting a foothold in the Middle East has stepped in to fill the void left by American troops in Syria. At this point, she told Trump, “All roads with him led to Putin.”
Then Trump said, I care more about defeating terrorism than you do. I hate ISIS more than you do.” Pelosi replied , “You don’t know that.”
Finally, the president said to the speaker, “You’re just a politician.” She replied, “Sometimes, I wish you were.” Schumer interjected, telling Trump that name-calling was not necessary. “Is that a bad name, Chuck? Then he looked at Pelosi and said, “You’re not a politician. You’re a third grade politician. “
At that insult, Pelosi prepared to leave . Steny Hoyer said it was time to go and added, “This is not useful” as they reached the door. Trump responded, “Good Bye. We’ll see you at the polls.”
The White House official account of the meeting was that “The president was measured, factual and decisive while Speaker Pelosi’s decision to walk out was baffling but not surprising.”
The speaker described the president’s behavior as “a meltdown”.
Epilogue: The final outcome of the United States betrayal of the Kurds is that the territory that was their homeland will be split in two. The Northern half will become a part of Turkey and the Southern half becomes a part of Syria.
……………………………………………. .Joyce S. Anderson