In Which I Try to Make Sense of Donald Trump’s Middle East Policy

A Kurdish refugee in northern Syria watches airstrikes in the city of Kobani.Dimitrios Chantzaras/NurPhoto/ZUMA

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I’m sort of catching up on things, so tell me if I have this straight:

  • Trump talked to Turkey’s president last night and agreed to let him invade northern Syria if Turkey was willing to take a few thousand ISIS prisoners off our hands.
  • After the phone call, Trump decided to go a step further and withdraw all American forces from northern Syria, thus giving Turkey a completely free hand.
  • None of Trump’s aides or military advisors knew he was planning to do this.
  • Eventually someone explained to Trump that Turkey didn’t actually care about ISIS. They just wanted to wipe out the Kurds in northern Syria, who have fought along our side in the war against ISIS for many years. Turkey considers them terrorists.
  • Informed of this, Trump tweeted that, hey, we paid the Kurds plenty for their help, so everything is even. Besides, he implied, maybe Turkey has a point about the Kurds.
  • Even Republicans couldn’t stomach this, so Trump hastily tweeted that if anything bad happened, we could always “go back & BLAST!”
  • Republicans still couldn’t stomach this sellout, so then Trump tweeted that if Turkey does anything “off limits”—whatever that is—“I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey.”

And . . . I guess that’s where we stand. This is one of the things I hate most about Trump. I happen to favor troop withdrawals from the Middle East, which makes the situation with the Kurds a genuinely tough one in my mind. Somehow, though, even when Trump does something I generally favor, he does it so stupidly and ham-handedly that it’s almost as if he’s trying to prove the hawks were right all along.

This was never going to be an easy situation to wind down, but there were certainly ways to do it without destroying America’s reputation as a reliable ally. As of today, however, it looks like that ship has sailed.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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