President Donald Trump has finally managed to do something so egregious that some key Republican colleagues have taken the near-unprecedented step of… criticizing him.
What possibly could have caused them to discover their spines and publicly, forcefully — and, it must be said, laudably — break their lockstep with the President and call him out? A foreign policy blunder by the President that exposes a key, ISIS-fighting ally to significant peril. But for these Republicans who have stepped forward to decry his move, there is likely a depressing political calculation at work here as well.
To begin, the President has thrown American foreign policy into chaos once again — impulsively and recklessly, this time in Syria. After a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump announced on Sunday that he would pull troops from the Turkish border with northern Syria. Turkey has made clear it will invade and obliterate the Syrian Kurds, America’s allies, who Turkey views as terrorists.
This means Trump has effectively abandoned the Kurds to their fate — the Kurds, the ones who have fought valiantly and effectively alongside American interests, helping to break up ISIS power. This action opens the door for other nefarious actors in the region, too, from Russia to Iran to Assadist fighters to ISIS.
As criticism of the decision mounted this week (Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham called it a “stain on America’s honor”), Trump issued a stunning and bizarre tweet, warning that “if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).” (He has not.)
Republicans have pointed out that abandoning the Kurds leaves America vulnerable: failing to live up to our military commitments, pledging protection to allies only to leave them totally open to attack sets us down a dangerous path of go-at-it-alone defense. The President doesn’t seem to care. He professes a desire to pull the US out of “Endless Wars” — also a laudable goal — but doesn’t seem to understand that bungling this withdrawal is likely to backfire and leave a great many people dead.
No matter, the President seems to say. He wrote off these wars as “tribal” — an ignorant, condescending and racist characterization — before writing that the Kurds “were paid massive amounts of money and equipment” to fight with us. It’s a remarkable look into this President’s mind: Loyalty to others and long-term strategy matter little; payoffs are how you get what you want.
Which brings us to the sudden stiffening of Republican spines. It’s great that the GOP hawks are criticizing Trump’s foreign policy when it puts US interests and our allies’ lives at risk (although their own taste for forever war, and the military industrial complex dollars it drives, is an enduring and repugnant motive).
But it’s telling that Republicans are willing to criticize the President on an issue that hasn’t and likely won’t draw a torrent of disparaging and damaging tweets from the President, and hence likely won’t cost them with voters — very few Americans vote primarily on foreign policy, and the question of whether we abandon the Kurds won’t drive many people to or from the ballot box.
It’s also deeply distressing that these same Republicans are at best mum on Trump’s soliciting of a foreign power to interfere with US elections, and at worst supportive of the President as he does it again. It’s about power and money: Breaking with the President on this foreign policy doesn’t lead to party breakdown or impeachment; breaking with him on threatening the integrity of US elections and allegedly breaking the law does. Republicans are simply unwilling to go all the way in protecting the country.
One more thing: Just reading the President’s tweets about Turkey and Syria (“I, in my great and unmatched wisdom”), should be enough to indicate that he is not making decisions from a point of foreign policy fluency — or even basic coherence.
This is an emergency. This President is unfit for office. He has already compromised our elections and Americans’ trust in a free and fair ballot box. Now, he’s taking dangerous steps that could lead to even greater upheavals in an already chaotic region — and potentially create a vacuum of extremism that could very easily come back to hurt us.
His broad impulse to bring American troops home is a good one. The tumultuous, ham-fisted and risky way he’s going about it is not. And his own words indicate that he is an unstable wannabe despot.
The GOP needs to offer more than words. We need action: Republicans, too, must demand that this President goes.