As Turkey began its assault against America’s Kurdish allies on Wednesday, sending troops and warplanes across the border with Syria, President Trump dismissed concerns about what is widely characterized as a betrayal of the fighters who bore the brunt of the battle against ISIS.
“Alliances are very easy” to establish, Trump said in response to a question about whether pulling American troops out of the region — leaving the field clear for Turkey to attack its historic enemies — would make it harder to enlist allies in the future.
Trump spoke at a White House event where he signed an executive order on transparency in instituting new federal regulations.
After a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday, Trump ordered the immediate withdrawal of the token American force that had been stationed in northern Syria, serving as a tripwire against Turkey’s long-standing desire to eliminate the Kurdish presence on its border. The Kurds, an ethnic group in a region that spans Turkey, northern Syria and Iraq, have fought alongside Americans in the war on ISIS for years. But their goal of carving out a national state in the region is strongly opposed by Turkey, which regards at least some of their forces as terrorists.
Within a day of the American redeployment, Turkey began mobilizing for the attack.
Echoing a point raised earlier in a blog post by a right-wing commentator, Trump dismissed the Kurdish alliance with an inexplicable reference to World War II, and suggested that the Kurds are pursuing their own interests in the Mideast, not necessarily America’s:
“Now, the Kurds are fighting for their land, just so you understand, they are fighting for their land. And as somebody wrote in a very, very powerful article today, they didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy as an example, they mentioned the names of different battles, but they’re there to help us with their land, and that’s a different thing.
“In addition to that, we have spent tremendous amounts of money in helping the Kurds,” Trump continued. “With all of that being said, we like the Kurds.”
He repeated his threat from Monday to “obliterate” the economy of Turkey with sanctions if — as some fear — it perpetrates a massacre of the Kurds.
The U.S. pullback, a sudden reversal of years of American policy, was met with unusually harsh and bipartisan criticism in Washington, including by Trump’s frequent defender Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said the Kurds had been “shamelessly abandoned by the Trump administration.”
Asked about the fate of thousands of captured ISIS fighters who have been held prisoner by the Kurds, Trump said it wouldn’t be America’s problem:
“Well, they’re going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go. They want to go back to their homes, but Europe didn’t want them from us, we could have given it to them, they could have had trials, they could have done whatever they wanted. But as usual, it’s not reciprocal. You know, my favorite word, ‘reciprocal.’ That’s all I want. I don’t want an edge, I just want reciprocal, it’s not a fair deal for the United States.”
Trump reminded reporters that scaling back America’s overseas commitments was one of his campaign promises.
“I campaigned on ending the endless wars. We’re all over the world fighting wars,” he said. “People are saying, ‘You’re doing the right thing.’”
He ended his comments by invoking the American casualties of the ongoing fighting in the Mideast, with an implied rebuke to Graham, who he said “would like to stay there for the next 200 years.”
“It’s easy to talk tough, tough guys, all these tough guys, ‘let’s keep fighting, let’s keep fighting.’ If they had to go to Walter Reed, where they do unbelievable work…” Trump said, before trailing off into an anecdote about an injured soldier who had surgery to rebuild his nose.
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