President Trump has managed to do the unthinkable: inspire bipartisan opposition to his leadership. On Wednesday, condemnation rained down from both sides of the aisle over Trump’s decision to pull remaining American troops out of northern Syria, opening the door for Turkey to launch a military strike on ethnic Kurds that have been American allies in fighting ISIS. With American forces gone, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stepped through that door Wednesday, launching a military offensive across its border. By way of explanation, Trump defended his reasoning for pulling the plug on American support for the Kurds, saying: “They didn’t help us with Normandy.”
Here’s a fuller version of Trump’s comments at the White House Wednesday:
The Kurds are fighting for their land, just so you understand. They’re fighting for their land and as someone wrote in a very, very powerful article today: They didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy, as an example… but they’re there to help us with their land. And that’s a different thing. And in addition that, we’ve spent tremendous amounts of money on helping the Kurds, in terms of ammunition, in terms of weapons, in terms of money, in terms of pay. With all of that being said, we like the Kurds.
Trump’s comments are muddled to the point of incoherence, but the article he appears to be referencing on the conservative site Townhall unsurprisingly makes more clear the point the president is trying to articulate. The Kurds were an ally worth defending when we had a common strategic interest in defeating ISIS, the argument goes, but now that the U.S. feels it has accomplished that, there’s not much use for the Kurds anymore. The point being, in the article at least, that the Kurds didn’t join the Americans to fight in Normandy—or elsewhere—because those conflicts were outside of their territory and strategic interest and the U.S. should use the same calculus.
The Kurds helped destroy ISIS, true. It’s also true that the Kurds would have fought ISIS anyway, since the psycho caliphate was right next door. Let’s be honest–the Kurds didn’t show up for us at Normandy or Inchon or Khe Sanh or Kandahar. The Syrian Kurds allied with us in their homeland because we shared a common interest in wiping out the head-lopping freak show that was ISIS… This idea that some sort of obligation for America to defend another people can arise outside the treaty ratification process is as bizarre as it is unconstitutional. Now we’re supposed to shed our blood because our elites feel we owe it to foreign strangers?
This argument, though flippant, fits in well with Trump’s transactional existence where he looks to gain the upper hand by shortchanging people at the expense of long-term gains. The acceptable costs and limits of U.S. support for allies is surely a legitimate topic of discussion, it’s just not one that Trump appears to have ever had with anyone.