For the first time in my lifetime, America has a president who doesn't even bother to pay lip service to humanitarian concerns. The consequences could be dire.
Let’s start in Syria, where, as Lindsey Graham warned Sunday on CNN’s State of The Union, “If we leave now, the Kurds are going to get slaughtered.” If this sounds like the overwrought histrionics of a neocon hawk, consider the following:
- Trump didn't seem to consult with his top advisers before announcing a withdrawal, but made the decision after talking to our best “frenemy” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who views our Kurdish allies as terrorists.
- In the wake of Trump’s announced withdrawal, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar promised that Kurdish militants “will be buried in their ditches when the time comes.”
- Last January, Erdogan threatened to “drown” U.S.-trained Kurdish forces in Syria. In response, Trump phoned Erdogan, urging Turkey to “deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties.” On that same phone call, Trump also warned Erdogan “to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.”
This raises an important question: If America retreats from Syria and there is no longer a danger of “conflict between Turkish and American forces,” will Trump care what happens to our former allies?
In 1916, the world stood by as the Ottoman Turks committed genocide against the Armenians—a genocide that helped shape the Holocaust. Are we about to witness a similar ethnic cleansing in the same region of the world?
Even if that doesn’t happen, a Turkish offensive could displace tens or hundreds of thousands of people and create a new wave of refugees.
We've left the Kurds to slaughter in the past, which was a great moral stain on our country. If we abandon the Kurds after they sacrificed so much to support us, why would any ally ever trust us in the future?
Of course, the Kurds are only one of the serious humanitarian disasters looming as we head into 2019.
In southeastern Turkey (far from the Kurdish region up north), 50,000 refugees near the U.S. base Al-Tanf are in imminent danger. “There’s no doubt that when U.S. forces withdraw, Assad’s army, aided by Iranian militias and Russian air power, will conquer the area by force,” writes Josh Rogin at The Washington Post. “The refugees, internally displaced Sunni Arabs, have spent almost eight years resisting Assad’s rule. Anyone in the camp who comes under any suspicion will face torture and murder. Local partners trained and equipped by the United States will be forced to switch sides or die.”
A U.S. withdrawal “gives the Assad regime and its Iranian and Russian backers a green light to renew attacks against civilians without reprisal,” Erica Hanichak, spokesperson for Americans for a Free Syria, told me. “Opening the floodgates to civilian slaughter goes against our norms and against the security interests of the United States.”
But it’s not just Syria where Trump’s erratic foreign policy and rhetoric could lead to more (not fewer) problems.
Last Thursday morning, Trump threatened to cut aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, over reports that another migrant caravan is set to leave from Honduras.
Cutting off aid would likely cause a political crisis in those countries (consider, for example, that more than 60.9% of Hondurans live in poverty) and not make a dent in our overall budget/debt.
In other words, saving a microscopic sliver of our budget would result in more caravans, not fewer, flooding toward our southern border. As conservative Ed Morrissey writes, “The long-term solution to illegal immigration isn’t a wall…it’s providing stability and prosperity to the nations of central America where most of the illegal immigrants originate.”
To be sure, Trump didn’t create the problems in Syria or in Honduras. But he is exacerbating those existing problems.
Or…this could all be talk.
Trump has threatened to cut off aid to Honduras before—without actually doing it.
And regarding Syria, after lunching with Trump on Sunday, Graham changed his tune, saying the president “made me feel a lot better about where we’re headed in Syria.” Graham went on to describe the withdrawal as “a pause situation.”
In Syria and in Central America, Trump is inviting multiple humanitarian crises—the kind that inevitably and ironically lead to more—not less—U.S. interventions and bloodshed. We have a president who is playing with fire but doesn’t even realize it.