While the world has quite justifiably been in a manic panic about the rapid spread and global shutdown which has been caused by the Covid-19 (aka coronavirus) epidemic, and Trump’s seemingly lack-luster response to the situation, many have overlooked one of the larger blunders in his presidency. The blank cheque he has essentially given Turkish President Erdogan when it comes to the Middle East.
Last year, as part of Trump’s plan to pull-out American service members and military officials, and reduce the American presence in the Middle East, he decided to withdraw troops that were stationed in key chokepoints in Northern Syria. This came with a massive upset, particularly from the Kurdish population who have been crucial allies in the fight against the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations who have been operating in that region for the last half decade. The vacuum that was created by this preemptive withdrawal meant that Turkish Forces had the opportunity to invade Northern Syria, which they ended up doing in the latter part of 2019, resulting in massive casualties on the Syrian and Kurdish fronts.
Trump responded to this development by sending the Turkish President a letter, promising economic sanctions and crashing the Turkish economy if he wasn’t willing to negotiate a ceasefire. This request, evidently, was ignored as Turkey has continued its operations in Northern Syria and has scaled up its military presence in the region. This has further added to the chaos and disorder which has long been a part of the region during the Syrian Civil War, and it has created a myriad of other issues for all parties involved. It forced the Kurdish forces in an uneasy alliance with the Syrian Arab Army and the Assad government to push back the Turkish invasion in October, devastating American relations with one of their most trusted allies in the region. It has bolstered Russia’s influence over the region, with Ankara effectively ignoring any deals proposed by Washington in favor of Moscow. And, most devastatingly of all, it has led to the deaths of thousands of people and displaced even more Syrians and Kurds. This has led to the continued strain of the refugee crisis in the Middle East and has forced tens of thousands of people to make their way to the Greek-Turkish border, further adding strain to relations with traditional NATO allies. Erdogan openly allowed a wave of refugees and migrants to move towards Greece, with the intent of putting pressure on NATO and the EU to get their support. Suffice to say, the situation is getting to be even more chaotic, with Turkey’s scaled-up involvement, and potentially causing conflicts on two-fronts.
And Trump has remained silent… why?
Well, being an election year, and being a year which has already been wrought with disasters for the current occupants of the White House (such as their original laissez-faire response to the Covid-19 outbreak), it would be a massive disadvantage to draw attention to one of the largest blunders that the Trump administration has made with their foreign policy.
Trump has unfortunately boxed himself into a horrendous situation; he’s tried to reduce military presence overseas, at the cost of the stability and reassurance that American forces bring to unstable parts of the world. He has seemingly been far too trusting that other powers in the region, such as Erdogan’s Turkey, will not have any greater vested interest in getting involved with the conflict, and will somehow fall in line with the NATO mission, instead of acting within their own best political and economic interests. Not even the Democrats, apart from Tulsi Gabbard, have touched on the issue, creating the atmosphere that there is no sense of responsibility coming from Washington that they have contributed to this mess with a massive lack of foresight.
Unfortunately, the situation in Syria, like so many other things in 2020, is likely to get worse before it gets better. Trump’s lack of any words or action further cements that the conflict, and the resulting effect it has on ordinary people; both in the Middle East and across the globe, is not going to subside anytime soon.
Written by Ilija Dokmanovic