For more than a decade, Kurdish women and men fought alongside U.S. troops to defeat terrorists in Iraq and Syria. A big part of that effort was pushing terrorists out of the cities, which required costly house-to-house action, and depriving ISIS and affiliated groups of access to oil fields that they could use to fund the expansion of their operations. Now, having achieved apparent victory, the Kurds are being rewarded by not only losing the cities they helped to wrest back from America’s enemies but by having the cities they controlled all along with American approval surrendered on their behalf.
But don’t worry … the oil is safe. Or, at least, that’s Donald Trump’s claim. For Trump, the Kurds are disposable. After all, as he’s said repeatedly, “they’re no angels.” Which is true: they’re not angels. They’re just human beings who put themselves on the line, working side by side with U.S. forces. But the oil is sacred. For the oil, Trump will do what he will not do for the people—keep U.S. troops on Syrian soil.
Of course, Trump has offered a solution to both problems, one that’s as cold-hearted and thoughtless as every other move he’s made in this conflict. The Kurds could simply leave behind their homes, businesses, and farms so that they can guard the oil for Trump. “Perhaps it is time for the Kurds to start heading to the Oil Region!” tweeted Trump.
As The Washington Post reports, Trump’s policy is not only shockingly inhumane; it’s also a fundamental shift in the U.S. mission across the entire Middle East. And, on top of everything else, it’s also unlikely to be effective while at the same time requiring the presence of a sizable body of U.S. troops in Syria.
Before Trump’s brilliant plan to withdraw all U.S. troops and give Turkish autocrat Recep Erdogan the green light for invasion, stability in the region really could be maintained with about 1,000 U.S. forces. Most of those forces were located at bases within the Kurdish region. There was no need to have forces specially stationed at the oil fields to protect them from ISIS, because captured ISIS fighters were held by a combination of Kurdish and U.S. security.
That’s no longer true. But there’s an even more compelling reason that it is now much more difficult for U.S. forces to defend even less territory: Everything Trump has done has signaled weakness. By abandoning the Kurds, by declaring military operations in Syria over, and by openly declaring that his top priority is to get out of the region, Trump has left the oil fields, and the forces guarding them, swinging in the wind.
Previous to Trump’s call to Erdogan, the alliance between U.S. and Kurdish forces was a counter to the forces of both Russia and Bashar al-Assad, as well as to Erdogan’s desire to “clean out” the Kurds on his border by means of genocide. No one moved on the U.S.-Kurdish coalition because they thought to do so would mean serious retaliation. Now they know better. By pulling the plug on that relationship, Trump not only left the Kurds in deadly peril, but he also left U.S. forces in the region massively weakened.
The disrespect that Trump’s action earned could be seen in everything from Turkish forces deliberately targeting their shells to shake up evacuating U.S. troops to Russian forces hurrying in to ransack abandoned U.S. bases. The message Trump delivered wasn’t just that the U.S. could not be trusted, but also that it would be ridiculed to its face without consequence.
The whole reason U.S. forces now need to be deployed around the oil fields in considerable numbers and with heavy weapons is that Trump has weakened the U.S. position and given ISIS a second wind. There were even ISIS-allied forces among the militias shooting Kurdish civilians along the roadsides in the days after U.S. forces were told to step down. And U.S. forces had orders not to engage those militias, even as the militias were slaughtering allies right in front of troops lining up to get on transports.
Now the U.S. is considering bringing in tanks and creating new bases around the oil fields to hold off assaults from a reinvigorated ISIS. It seems likely that they’ll be needed. Because Trump’s “great outcome” in Syria is difficult even for right-wing media in the United States to swallow. For everyone on the ground in the Middle East, the result is clear to see: an absolute humiliation that will have consequences far beyond the exclusion zone being created along the Syrian border.