What can be mitigated?
President Donald Trump’s decision to pull a few dozen U.S. troops out of an area of northern Syria controlled by Kurdish military forces is being criticized widely, by both Republicans and Democrats. It is being portrayed as a betrayal of a staunch ally in the war against Islamic terrorists.
It is that — but the decision probably was unavoidable. The issue now is what, if anything, Trump can do to mitigate damage from the action.
It helps to understand the situation:
The Kurdish people of the Middle East have been fighting for decades to establish an independent homeland. It has been pointed out that they are the largest ethnic group in the world without their own country.
But their drive toward one has involved military action against the governments of Syria, Iraq and Turkey. The Kurds hold substantial swaths of all three countries.
It is understandable that Turkish leaders object to demands that a section of their nation be carved off to give the Kurds what they want. It also is understandable that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to put an end to Kurdish attacks against his army. To that end, Erdogan has launched a military strike against the Kurds in Syria.
U.S. troops in that region had acted as a sort of trip-wire to prevent such action by Turkey. Their removal cleared the way for Erdogan to launch his assault.
It is true that the Kurds have assisted the United States in battling Islamic terrorists — but it must be remembered that their reason for doing so was not just to help Americans. The Kurdish drive for a homeland requires them to oust all other organized forces, both those of governments such as Turkey and Syria and those of terrorists such as ISIS, from the area they desire to control.
By preventing a Turkish assault, the United States has been intervening in other countries’ affairs — the same as if England and France had formally taken sides in our own Civil War many years ago.
As upsetting as it is to many Americans that we are letting the Kurds down, it has happened many times before. Consider our abandonment of the Vietnamese who, also at great risk, helped us during the Vietnam War.
In any event, the die has been cast. Now Trump should worry about the side-effects.
One is Turkish atrocities in the Kurdish area. Trump already has threatened that if they occur, U.S. economic sanctions will be imposed against Turkey. He should keep that promise.
The other challenge is that the Kurds hold thousands of ISIS prisoners. Conflict against Turkish forces could enable many of them to regain their freedom. That simply cannot be allowed to happen.
Trump should make one of his famous phone calls to Erdogan and — reminding him ISIS is a threat to his country, too — put in place some mechanism by which Turkish forces, if they are in areas where the Kurds hold ISIS prisoners, do all in their power to keep the terrorists in captivity.
That is not a perfect plan, of course. But, in case you hadn’t noticed, nothing about the situation can be termed perfect.