Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Former US Diplomat Weighs In on Trump's Controversial Syrian Decision

by Nomad

The Depreciating Value of American Handshakes

Brett McGurk, Payne distinguished lecturer at Stanford, a foreign affairs analyst as well as former Presidential envoy, had a few things to say about Trump's decision to pull US troops out of Northern Syrian. In short, he was livid.

Before leaving the Trump administration in December, McGurk had served under Bush (as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan) and Obama ( as Special Advisor to the U.S. National Security Council and Senior Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq).

In interviews, McGurk has stated:
"The value of a handshake from the United States of America, whether from the president or from diplomats... is depreciating by the week. Nobody can believe anything we say... This major decision was taken without any consultation..."
Elaborating on this, he tweets:

Regarding Syria and Turkey, there is some disinformation out there (including from the POTUS himself), so here is some background on what is admittedly a complex matter with no easy or magic formulas:

First: It was Trump (not Obama) that made the decision to arm the Kurdish component (YPG) of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to take Raqqa, then ISIS’s capital city. He made this decision after his national security team developed options for his review.

The weapons provided were meager and just enough for the battle against ISIS. (The SDF cleared IEDs by purchasing flocks of sheep.) They were not “paid massive amounts of money and equipment” (as Trump said today). Nearly all stabilization funding came from the coalition.

Second: the United States did not partner with SDF over realistic alternatives. Both Obama and Trump developed and considered options to work with the Turkey-backed opposition, which is unfortunately riddled with extremists, many tied to al Qaeda.

Nonetheless, our best military planners spent months with counterparts in Turkey across both administrations. The only available Turkey-approved option in NE Syria would have required tens of thousands of American troops. Two U.S. presidents rejected that option.

Third: the United States is not “holding” ISIS detainees in Syria. They are all being held by the SDF, and barely so, given meager resources. State and DOD Inspectors General have covered this in depth. Summary here

Turkish entry by force into NE Syria risks fracturing the SDF, pulling its fighters out of former ISIS strongholds, abandoning ISIS prison facilities, and making it impossible for U.S. forces to stay on the ground in small numbers with an acceptable level of risk.

Fourth: It was the Trump administration that dramatically expanded the Syria mission in 2018 beyond ISIS to include staying on the ground until Iran left Syria and the civil war was resolved (meaning many years). Another example of maximalist objectives for a minimalist POTUS.

Indeed, the administration expanded the mission and policy aims in Syria while Trump cut U.S. resources by more than 50 percent, leaving our people on the ground scrambling with no backup from the president himself. Misaligned ends/means = policy incoherence & risk.

Trump then (twice) abruptly reversed course after 1) a foreign leader call and 2) without consulting his own military advisors. If anyone still believes Trump cares about Syria, they’re mistaken. He doesn’t and his erratic swings heighten risk to our personnel on the ground.

Finally: the U.S. leads a coalition that includes over 80 countries and nearly two dozen contributors to the military and/or stabilization mission in Syria. Leading a coalition requires consultation with coalition partners before major decisions are taken. This is elementary.

The consequences of such unreliability from the Oval will reverberate well beyond Syria. The value of an American handshake is depreciating. Trump today said we could “crush ISIS again" if it regenerated. With who? What allies would sign up? Who would fight on his assurances?

Bottom line: These are matters of war and peace, life and death. Our military personnel, friends and allies, deserve deliberation and thought before decisions are made (the essence of “command”). Erratic swings favor far more patient adversaries in Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran.

Here's McGurk speaking on the Rachel Maddow Show.