President Donald Trump yesterday justified abandoning Kurdish fighters in Syria by remarking that “they didn’t help us with Normandy”, triggering a wave of backlash across the political spectrum.
After talking to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday, Trump announced on Tuesday that he would be withdrawing all American troops from Syria, despite the fact that Turkish forces were massing on the border, leaving Kurdish fighters to fend off an imminent invasion on their own.
The Kurds, a large ethnic group residing mainly in Turkey, Iraq and Iran, were a key ally in the US assisted campaign against so-called Islamic State, sustaining more than 11,000 casualties fighting the extremists. Trump’s decision to abruptly leave the region has drawn condemnation from both sides of the political spectrum, with even Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s closest Republican allies, proclaiming that the Kurds were “shamelessly abandoned”.
Trump refused to back down in the face of near-universal criticism, instead justifying the retreat by pointing out that the Kurdish people of Iran were not present on the northern coast of France in 1944.
Trump’s reference to Normandy reduces the battle to a patriotic buzzword, ignoring any practical or vaguely sane reasons as to why the Kurds were not part of the D-Day landings. The supreme irony here is that the President is an infamous draft dodger, avoiding enrolment in the Vietnam War on five separate occasions, most notoriously for “bone spurs”, despite the President being a capable college athlete.
Trump’s rhetoric has become excessively nonsensical and megalomaniacal in recent weeks, with the impeachment inquiry looming and his approval ratings plummeting. A recent Fox News poll revealed that 51% of registered voters in America now support Trump’s impeachment, a startling wakeup call for the President that does not bode well for his 2020 prospects (if he remains in office by then).
At a time of great uncertainty and relentless division in America, a widely unpopular withdrawal from Syria is a baffling move, sowing discontent in the voting demographics Trump needs most to win a second term. From a foreign policy perspective, the move is disastrous. The Kurds are responsible for the imprisonment of thousands of IS soldiers and their families, and an offensive from Turkey is bound to inspire resurgences of Islamic extremism.
Removing US soldiers, and with them a brief but tangible sense of stability in the region, is an extraordinary and callous decision that will no doubt come back to bite Trump in the polls. It remains to be seen whether this is the final straw needed for a full-scale Republican rebellion against their President, a certain route to impeachment.
By Max Ingleby