Donald Trump’s raison d'être has been to repeal and replace Barack Obama’s presidency, so why did he choose to replicate what might have been the worst part of his legacy, namely Obama’s infamous “red line” debacle in Syria (which signaled weakness and empowered Russia) and his withdrawal from Iraq (which led to the rise of ISIS)?
In case you’ve forgotten, not long ago, Trump was calling Obama literally the founder of ISIS. The literal part was, of course, absurd. But by failing to leave a residual force behind in Iraq, Obama squandered the hard-fought gains made during the Iraq surge, allowing for the rise of the Islamic State.
But isn’t that exactly what Trump has done in Syria? According to Kurdish forces on the ground, hundreds of ISIS family members and militants have already escaped.
Of course, another problem is that weakness invites provocation. By allowing his red line in Syria to be trampled, Obama signaled weakness to authoritarians like Vladimir Putin. In fact, Donald Trump has been arguing for some time that the reason Russian President Putin was so bold to invade and occupy Crimea was that he had so little “respect” for Barack Obama.
But by that same logic, one could conclude that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan respects Trump even less than Putin respected Obama (at least in Crimea the U.S. didn't have troops). Erdogan had so little respect that he told Trump he planned to invade northern Syria whether or not U.S. troops were there. Or, at least, that seems to be what Donald Trump's own administration officials have said while defending the president. Whether they understand how pathetic such a defense paints the president is another question.
To be sure, we will have to see how this so-called “ceasefire” or “pause” plays out, but by betraying our allies, and by empowering Turkey, Syria, Russia, and Iran (what a quadrifecta!), America has created a situation where our allies no longer trust us and our adversaries no longer fear us.
That is the (very) bad news.
If there has been one bright spot to this, it’s the fact that so many Republicans did publicly criticize Trump for his behavior in Syria.
Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger was especially outspoken, calling Trump’s decision to pull out of northern Syria “a shortsighted decision with very real and long-lasting implications.” And he’s far from being alone, even if some of Trump’s newfound Republican critics—see Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, and Rep. Dan Crenshaw—are still too afraid to tag (or even mention) Trump’s name in their critical tweets.
I’m left wondering if this criticism of Trump’s policy in Syria might signal that some Republicans are moving toward impeachment over his Ukraine call?
On one hand, it has now been demonstrated that Republicans (especially when they join together) can criticize Trump with impunity. Might this embolden Republicans to criticize Trump on other things? Could it be that they are learning his bark is worse than his bite?
That’s one possibility. It’s also possible that criticizing Trump on Syria could actually have the opposite effect, providing cover for Republicans to oppose impeachment. Think of it. A Republican who distances himself from Trump on Syria can then proudly boast that he has bravely criticized Trump, but that “what he did with Ukraine was bad—but not impeachable.”
Regardless, the Syria debacle has introduced a new variable into the impeachment drama, and it’s fair to say that the world could look very different by the time the Senate considers whether to remove Trump from office.
Here are a couple of possible scenarios: Now that Trump has shown just how little he cares about American commitments abroad, and about defending borders other than the U.S-Mexico border, what happens if Putin tests him on the edges of NATO—or if Iran gets the message and starts a war with Israel?
People who are utterly confident in Trump’s ability to constantly escape consequences for his actions fail to factor in that, eventually, his chickens may come home to roost.
Political gravity, eventually, reasserts itself.