As if invoking the Great and Powerful Oz, President Donald Trump now asserts via Twitter that he is guided by “great and unmatched wisdom.” This wisdom validates his decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria while warning Turkey not to mess with the Kurdish forces whose battlefield sacrifices have helped the United States avoid a much deeper entanglement against Islamic State terrorists in Syria and Iraq.
Short of also awarding himself a Certificate of Thinkology or perhaps a heart-shaped clock to cover for other character deficits, Trump might simply consider the words that Oz offered to the cowardly lion standing before him: “As for you, my fine friend — you’re a victim of disorganized thinking. You are under the unfortunate delusion that simply because you run away from danger, you have no courage. You’re confusing courage with wisdom!”
Trump’s surprise order for U.S. troops to leave northern Syria this week has met with well-deserved derision from GOP leaders on Capitol Hill. The Pentagon leadership has been so adamant about maintaining a U.S. military presence in northern Syria that then-Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned after Trump announced the withdrawal late last year. Trump rescinded his decision after receiving an overwhelming Senate rebuke, only to reimpose it this week, without warning.
Thousands of pro-U.S. Kurdish fighters are now stranded in northern Syria, sandwiched between hostile Turkish troops who want to crush them and the combined forces of Syria, Russia and Iran to the south. These fighters have spent years helping clean up the mess left behind when the United States withdrew from Iraq without vanquishing a ragtag group of Islamist militants who were so radical that even al-Qaida had disavowed them. That group became the Islamic State.
Because ethnic Kurdish fighters accepted training and battlefield support from a small contingent of U.S. Special Operations forces, they were able to oust the Islamic State from Iraq while eventually corralling the radicals in Syria. The big question is what will happen to the estimated 10,000 to 11,000 Islamic State prisoners under Kurdish control. The Kurds can’t simultaneously fight off Turkish, Iranian, Syrian and Russian forces while continuing to guard the prisoners.
Trump’s unmatched wisdom could result in thousands of Islamic State fighters being unleashed back onto the battlefield to renew their campaign of mass killing, rape and torture.
Would Trump and his supporters prefer to wait until Americans are kidnapped and beheaded again? Or perhaps an Islamic State-inspired mass attack on U.S. shores would do the trick. These radicals are, by no means, vanquished and are awaiting their moment to regroup and fight anew.
Staying in this fight alongside the Kurds is entirely in America’s interests. Withdrawing based on one man’s emotion-driven whim most definitely confuses wisdom with courage. And demonstrates neither.