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Tue Oct 15, 2019, 06:26 AM

The Madman Has No Clothes

The Madman Has No Clothes
Since Nixon, presidential pundits and sycophants have tried to rationalize executive insanity. But no one was prepared for Trump’s Syria madness.
By Adam Weinstein
October 14, 2019

If you pretended you oversaw the most powerful military, diplomatic corps, and liberal political system in human history, and you wanted to discover the single action that would threaten a friendly people with atrocities, war crimes, and genocide; expose U.S. troops to attack by a foreign state’s military; scatter Islamist terrorist prisoners to the winds and invigorate their movement; boost anti-democratic, murderous regimes in Damascus, Ankara, Moscow, and Tehran; shred longstanding liberal alliances; and demoralize citizens of your own nation—you could have barely topped what President Trump has just done. Not without nuclear weapons, at least.

To sum up: Trump and fellow Turkish “nationalist” president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan chatted two Sundays ago, and Trump subsequently announced he was pulling U.S. troops from territory in Northern Syria that we’d helped the Kurds occupy. The reason was that Erdoğan planned a massive incursion to wipe out those Kurds, all of whom he considers to be Marxist-Leninist terrorists, and whose destruction would be a feather in his populist cap. The Turkish operation began. U.S. forces, caught unawares by the move, began a hasty and logistically problematic retreat; at one point American troops found themselves deliberately “bracketed” by Turkish artillery fire—pinned in position and wholly reactive to the movements of a foreign state’s force, one set in motion by their own commander in chief. This may have been the first time any nation that houses U.S. nuclear weapons—there are an estimated 50 thermonuclear air-drop warheads at Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey—targeted U.S. troops with its own army. (“Seriously, it’s time to take our fucking nuclear weapons out of Turkey,” one longtime arms-control expert tweeted in response to the targeting news.)

Since then, U.S. forces on the ground are in anguish and “ashamed,” witnessing atrocities and abandoning allies to potential Turkish war crimes. The Kurds, having seen Trump almost pull this last year, had asked their American partners’ help in planning for a post-U.S. scenario by aligning with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his Russian backers. The U.S. had said no, assuring the Kurds it would not abandon them. After all, Trump had publicly bragged last summer that he’d singlehandedly stopped Erdogan from going in before; “I called him and asked him not to do it, and he hasn’t done it,” he said in June. But Erdogan did it. And he told Trump that he was doing it.


Trump and his advisers’ rationales over the past week for abandoning the Kurds have been incoherent, dishonest, and obscene: It’s a primordial fight between lesser peoples; it’s a victorious end to endless war, despite the fact that there’s no actual U.S. withdrawal plan from Syria, and 14,000 U.S. troops have been added in the region since the spring; the Kurds “didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy”; we “should have never been there in the first place”; Turkey “is a big trading partner”; we “did not endorse” and are “not involved” in the Turkish operation; just go ahead and let it happen, but know that if it gets bad, there will be consequences.

Here’s a consequence: the body of Kurdish politician Hevrin Khalaf, reportedly dragged from her car by Turkish-backed fighters and murdered, captured on video by a fighter who then says, “This is the body of a pig.” Here is another: a video of Turkish militiamen executing two Kurdish prisoners in cold blood. There are reports of dead children and mass refugees. We could add to this the damage done to American promises, the boon to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s expanding sphere of leverage-acquiring potentates and bagmen, and the rending of NATO, but it feels premature to dwell too closely on the geopolitical implications of this catastrophe while the atrocities continue apace.



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