You ever just have a day? A day that, to quote Ma Kelly from the great gangster spoof Johnny Dangerously, really sucks? America had a day like that on Thursday.
Johnny Dangerously (which I didn’t realize until just now makes a pretty strong point about the social costs to our country of not providing universal health coverage) is a classic tale of a criminal with a heart of gold. Johnny is a poor kid who gets caught up in a life of crime because his dear old ma needs one operation after another. He approves surgery for a “blocked salivary gland,” noting: “it’ll be good to see her spit again.” The gangster in the Oval Office, on the other hand, is a criminal who cares only about getting more gold, even though he was born with enough of it to replace every gland in his body without thinking twice about the cost.
But back to the news. Let’s start with the worst of the three things Trump did on Thursday—the most immoral, the most stupid, not to mention the most damaging to America’s long-term national security interests. That would be when he made official his craven sellout of the Syrian Kurds to Turkey’s President Recep Erdoğan.
Syrian Kurdish forces, you may remember, played a vital role in defeating ISIS, a group Trump once considered very dangerous but who he now says isn’t so bad compared to a group of Kurds in Turkey, the P.K.K. (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), who his new buddy Erdoğan says is even worse, and whose activities justify Turkey’s invasion of Syrian Kurdish territory. The reality is somewhat different:
So Trump not only abandoned our allies, an act that left officers in our Special Forces who served alongside them feeling “ashamed” because “they [the Syrian Kurds] trusted us and we broke that trust.” He then bought into the bullshit propaganda line about those allies being spewed by the guy we abandoned them to.
In fact, that’s even worse than the garden-variety appeasement practiced in 1938 when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, along with his French counterpart, sold out Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler in the shameful Munich Agreement. At least Chamberlain didn’t pathetically parrot Hitler’s lies about ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland being supposedly abused by the Czechoslovak government.
And, before we go any further, of course Erdoğan is not Hitler and Turkey is not Nazi Germany. But that doesn’t mean that Trump isn’t Chamberlain, or arguably worse, in terms of the immorality of the appeasement being carried out. Hell, the Syrian Kurds fought and shed blood alongside our soldiers. The British didn’t have troops in Czechoslovakia that Chamberlain pulled out of Hitler’s way. And not to defend Neville Chamberlain, but at least his intentions were avoiding another world war. What’s Trump’s excuse for appeasing Erdoğan?
Either way, the parallel is clear. In both cases, the aggressor wanted territory from a smaller neighbor, and the larger world power not only said okay, but essentially authorized the surrender of that territory. Oh, and it looks like Turkey is already violating the so-called ‘ceasefire’ that was supposed to give the Syrian Kurds five days to hightail it out of the lands where, as Mark Sumner pointed out, they had lived for four millennia. They have now allied themselves with the only other forces who can protect them, namely the vicious Assad government in Damascus. We can also note that the big overall winner here, in addition to Turkey, is Vladimir Putin—Assad’s ally on the ground in Syria—who is now filling the power vacuum being left by our pullout. Think he’s happy about helping Trump get elected?
There’s also the issue of U.S. credibility around the world. I know that “credibility” is too often used to justify continuing an unjustifiable war. But seriously, who in the world will ever join with us again in a fight after seeing how we treat our allies after that fight is over? Speaking of Putin laughing his ass off at our, er, ‘policy,’ a talking head on Russian state TV noted, somberly of course, that:
The Kurds themselves again picked the wrong patron. The United States, of course, is an unreliable partner.
To get a sense of exactly how “unreliable” Trump’s behavior toward the Syrian Kurds has been, take a look at this:
The United States had encouraged its Kurdish allies to dismantle their defenses in northern Syria, saying it would make it easier to assure Turkey that the Kurds posed no threat. So in recent months, according to three American officials involved, the Kurds blew up tunnels and destroyed trenches, leaving themselves vulnerable as the United States promised that it would have their back.
Now, a week after President Trump’s decision to pull American support from them, the sense of betrayal among the Kurds, trusted allies now being forced to flee under assault from Turkey, is matched only by their outrage at who will move in: Turkish soldiers supported by Syrian fighters the United States had long rejected as extremists, criminals and thugs.
“These are the misfits of the conflict, the worst of the worst,” said Hassan Hassan, a Syrian-born scholar tracking the fighting. “They have been notorious for extortion, theft and banditry, more like thugs than rebels — essentially mercenaries.”
Finally, Trump has said his sellout of our allies in northern Syria is really about bringing U.S. troops home. However, the same week as he did his whole appeasement thing—the end result of which will be 1,000 Americans leaving Syria—he also sent 3,000 U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia to, wait for it, defend against attacks on that country by Iran. So he’s 2,000 soldiers in the wrong direction. But that doesn’t matter because of, well, the gold:
Trump said the United States would not bear the expense of the deployment. “Saudi Arabia, at my request, has agreed to pay us for everything we’re doing,” he told reporters.
And gold leads us to the next part of America’s awful day, as delivered to us by The Man Who Lost The Popular Vote. It’s a simpler story to tell, and it is one that would make the most thieving, self-dealing politicians in our history beam with pride. Boss Tweed—the worst crook we’ve seen to this point—is looking (notice I didn’t say “looking down”) at Trump and thinking that it takes a real New Yorker to know how to make office-holding pay like this.
Of course, I’m talking about the Trump White House’s announcement that the host of the massive G-7 gathering next June will be, of course, Donald Trump. Is this a blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, by forcing foreign governments to pay him in order to participate in an international gathering? Check. Will it absolutely put money in his pocket by filling up a resort that would otherwise likely be around three-fifths empty at that time of year? Check. Actually, forget the check. Trump would rather they pay in cash.
(NOTE: Late Saturday, after this post was submitted, Trump flip-flopped, announcing that the event won’t be held at his property after all. Two thoughts: First, pulling your hand out of the cookie jar without a cookie just because you realized you couldn’t get away with stealing it doesn’t make you any less corrupt. Second, this is a tremendous show of weakness from a demagogue whose appeal consists in large part of thrilling his supporters by sticking it to other people. Don’t think it won’t cost him.)
Last (but not least) among the events of Trump’s Thursday Trifecta of Shame was the admission by his chief of staff Mick Mulvaney that, yes, there actually was a quid pro quo with Ukraine. He directly stated that the reason the Trump administration had been holding up the $391 million worth of military aid that Congress had already approved and appropriated was that the Ukrainian government wasn’t doing Trump’s bidding on a matter that would benefit him politically.
“Did he also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the D.N.C. server?” Mr. Mulvaney said, referring to Mr. Trump. “Absolutely. No question about that.” He added, “That’s why we held up the money.”
How much of a big deal is this? Let the guy running the impeachment show in the House tell you.
Adam Schiff, via @mkraju: “I think Mr Mulvaney’s acknowledgement means the things have gone from very very bad to much much worse.”
— Dan Berman (@DHBerman) October 17, 2019
So that’s how Trump, in addition to proving that he is as much of a craven appeaser as Neville Chamberlain and as crooked a politician as Boss Tweed, also showed that he abused the power of his office for political gain in a way that can only be described as Nixonian. How’s that for a Thursday?
Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh’s Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump