An open letter to President Donald J. Trump:
Dear President Trump,
While speaking to attendees at a recent political rally in Minneapolis, you told Americans to “take a victory lap” in justification of your decision to pull back U.S. troops from the Syrian border with Turkey, betraying our Kurdish allies and exposing them to Turkish invasion and political slaughter. My question is why? This sounds very much like when President George W. Bush stood aboard an aircraft carrier in front of a sign that said “Mission Accomplished,” before victory was complete in Iraq, or when President Obama prematurely removed troops from Iraq in 2011, leading to the rise of ISIS. Here’s why:
As a tactical and strategic decision, it makes no sense. Since 2016, the Kurds, as the main part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, have been our boots on the ground in the fight against ISIS. Because of our alliance with them, we were able to remove the terror group from control of a territory the size of Great Britain spanning Syria and Iraq. Rather than needing tens of thousands of American soldiers in Syria to defeat the Islamic State, we were able to do so with about 2000 troops in supporting roles as trainers and air support. It was a brilliant strategy that I give you full credit for, as Commander-in-Chief. It demonstrated how to fight the War on Terror with minimal risk to American lives. While we had 2000 troops deployed in Syria, the Kurds have suffered close to 11,000 casualties fighting on our behalf. These could have been American soldiers lost, except for that the Kurds bore the brunt of the fighting. Now, this strategy has been put in jeopardy by your decision to pull back troops in Syria, causing the Kurds to have to defend themselves against a Turkish invasion, meant to wipe them out, and taking pressure off of ISIS, who is already seizing the opportunity to regroup. This puts all Americans in danger!
You have claimed that the Kurds fought for their homeland, implying that it was only a tactical alliance, and so we owe them nothing. This is completely untrue. Initially, yes they fought to protect their communities and families. But, the Kurdish region of Syria represents only a fraction of the territory they now control. On our behalf, they extended the fight against ISIS to all of northeast Syria, right into Raqqa, the capital of the so-called Islamic Caliphate. It is in this broader fight where they suffered their largest casualties, fighting not in defense, but offensively on behalf of all Americans. Our families are safer because they fought for us! So, how can you abandon them now, risking their families to potential genocide?
A core strategy of fighting the War on Terror has been to defeat terrorists around the world and to help those we liberate form democratic societies wherever possible. This hasn’t always worked, as illustrated by Afghanistan and Iraq. These were the “endless wars” to which you have referred. But, it was working in the territory administered by the Kurds in Syria because they share our democratic values! As they liberated territory from ISIS, they developed local democratic councils to rule communities with representative government. Each of these councils was representative of the local populations they served. They also drafted a constitution that supports individual liberty, equality of men and women and protection of ethnic and religious minorities. These are not beliefs imposed upon them by America, but values they share with us and have promoted for generations. They are skeptical of central government control and, in many ways, one could claim that the Kurds are the truest philosophical Republicans, or Libertarians, in the Middle East. So, how does abandoning them put Americans at risk?
Aside from pushing ISIS out of territory they once held and creating democratic institutions, the Kurds have guarded around 12,000 imprisoned ISIS fighters, a third of whom are foreign nationals. They have also operated detention camps for ISIS members and their wives, housing as many as 100,000 people. Now that they are being attacked by Turkey, the Kurds have already said defending these prisoners is a second priority, as soldiers are moved to the frontlines to defend their communities from the Turks. Already, a car bomb has detonated outside of Ghuwairan prison where ISIS fighters are held, and intelligence obtained from Kurdish forces has confirmed that ISIS sleeper cells and suicide bombers are operating in the region with the primary intention of targeting prisons in an effort to free ISIS fighters. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS urged his followers to start freeing their jihadists last month!
You have said that Turkey will have the responsibility to insure that no ISIS prisoners escape and that they will pay a heavy price if any do. Recent reports from the past few days state that as many as 950 ISIS supporters escaped during chaos created by nearby Turkish bombardment and 5 ISIS fighters escaped from another prison. That’s almost 1000 ISIS members now free, since you decided to pull back American troops. The Turks obviously cannot be trusted to guard ISIS prisoners and this should not surprise anyone. Turkish President Erdogan is an Islamist Fascist who supports Islamic extremist such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. For years now, he has supported Al Qaeda affiliated groups fighting in Syria’s civil war, some of whom pledged loyalty to ISIS when they ruled parts of the region as the Islamic Caliphate. Now, these same groups, under the umbrella of the Syrian National Army (formerly the Free Syrian Army), are the bulk of the ground forces that Erdogan is using in his offensive against the Kurds. They will be the troops coming into contact with ISIS prisoners. Can we trust that they will keep them locked up when many of them have pledged loyalty to Islamic State in the recent past? I don’t think so, and that makes all American families less safe, as well as families around the world.
Furthermore, as a Jew, I pay attention to Israel and events in the Middle East. With the Kurds in control of northeast Syria, Iran was denied the ability to easily supply Hezbollah weapons with which to attack Israel. Your decision to withdraw American troops and the resulting attack by Turkey has now forced the Kurds to seek protection from the Syrian government and its allies, Russia and Iran. This opens up the supply corridor to Hezbollah, endangering our ally, Israel.
Many, including former Defense Secretary Mattis, are predicting an ISIS resurgence, as a result of your decision. So, we will have to fight them again. This time, though, it will require thousands of more American soldiers on the ground, as potential allies will no longer trust us to have their back. As a result, this decision has put all Americans at greater risk, likely for generations!
You have claimed that your decision is popular outside of Washington D.C. Let me assure you, I am not part of the Washington establishment. I am your average blue-collar American who has whole-heartedly supported you since the 2016 campaign. I support your economic decisions, trade policies, reduction of regulatory burden and appointment of strict Constitutionalists judges. I believe the Russian collusion claim was a hoax, as is the current impeachment investigation regarding your phone call with Ukraine. Like many, I am a passionate supporter who has lost friends, family and possibly employment as a result. But, this decision makes me more hesitant in my support. Not only is it strategically dangerous, but morally wrong. As a father, I teach my children to be loyal and have the back of those that stand by you. The Kurds have stood by America more than most other peoples in the world and deserve our strong support. It seems that with one decision, you have weakened our defense capabilities, betrayed our ally and empowered ISIS, Syria, Russia, Iran and Turkey. It has made the world less safe for all Americans. Not your best move, Mr. President.
As an American, all I can do is speak out and vote when I feel a policy s wrong. I will not vote for any of the Socialist Democrats currently running for President, but would now consider a primary challenger to you, or a more conservative Democrat, if one were to arise. Even if I do vote for you in 2020, it will be with reservation and less enthusiasm than before. I truly hope you reconsider your decision and undue the damage you have done. All American families and the world will be safer if you do.
Samuel Griswold is the author of True Identity, a historical thriller novel about a Mossad agent, who develops amnesia after having been caught in an explosion and must remember his past in time to save the American president from being assassinated. Learn more at www.SamuelGriswold.org.