October 24, 2019

Sen. Duckworth: With Syria drawdown, Donald Trump turns his back on America's credibility

Source: USA Today


In the most fractious, war-torn countries in the world, victories are rare and allies you can truly count on even rarer. Yet over the past five years, the United States had found that kind of partner in the Kurds, who were willing to fight — even die — by our troops’ sides to defend the free world against the Islamic State and the terror it spread.

The relationship was symbiotic. We were reluctant to use ground troops in Syria to wage war against ISIS. The Kurds were willing to take that risk. They didn’t have the air support or reconnaissance capability to actually defeat the terrorist group. We did. 

So we stood shoulder to shoulder, retaking ISIS’ caliphate inch by inch — and in the process, they became our brothers and sisters in arms. 

They bled for us. They died for us. They guarded facilities where our personnel was based and protected our convoys as we drove through the Syrian streets. They did the unimaginable on-the-ground work of fighting ISIS face to face — work no one else in the world wanted to do but everyone benefited from, as they made all of our homelands safer with every target they captured. 

Roughly 11,000 Kurdish fighters sacrificed their lives for our shared mission against ISIS, doing what we asked them to do. Yet now — maybe because of cowardice, maybe because of corruption, maybe both — President Donald Trump has broken our word to those who’ve sacrificed so much on our behalf, choosing to pander to an autocrat and clear the way for a Turkish offensive that has already left more of our allies dead and destabilized the entire region.

Trump causes a long trail of disasters

In the days since Trump’s decision, Iranian-backedwar criminal Bashar Assad has been able to consolidate his brutal rule over swaths of northern Syria, while Russia has strode back into the region, filling the power vacuum we left behind. According to the Pentagon, our own troops have been shelled by our ostensible ally, Turkey, while we’ve likely lost the trust of human intelligence assets in the region who once would’ve worked with us.

About 100 ISIS fighters have broken out of Kurdish prisons that Trump all but physically unlocked, leading to real fears of a resurgent ISIS and greater odds that we’ll have to send troops back into northern Iraq to re-wage war over feet of sand that we had won, trying to beat back the resurgent group along with the newly emboldened Iranian proxies.

Finally, on Wednesday, Trump handed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan  everything he could have asked for, including lifting all sanctions on Turkey while turning a blind eye to the Kurdish families that Erdogan is forcing out of their homes.

And somehow all this happened in just a couple of weeks.

None of those outcomes makes America great again or put America first. Instead, the list of consequences for our nation goes on and on — just as the list of American fatalities will, as anyone who has ever commanded a military unit will tell you that troops outside of Syria will be in graver danger as well because of the president’s incompetence.

For decades, the United States has implemented a “by, with and through” approach to employing force, which aims to limit U.S. military engagement by working more creatively with our global partners.

Rather than remaking the mistakes of wars past and romping around in somebody else’s backyard, this approach helps curb American risk. Instead of deploying an armored division, we send groups of advisers to train, advise and assist our partners, allowing us to interweave our goals with theirs and, as we saw with our Kurdish allies, take advantage of our individual strengths, combining U.S. logistical support and air power with a partner nation's local knowledge and manpower. 

If I were a division commander or special operations commander today, I would have spent the past week brushing off my operational plans, because with no ally around to help shoulder our burden, we’ll have no choice but to send more American troops when ISIS regroups and raises their black-and-white flag once again.

Without allies' trust, America is alone

With one decision, Trump shredded our credibility, wrecked our foreign policy and endangered both today’s and tomorrow’s troops.

In a war zone, trust is sacred, and anyone who has served in this particular region can tell you the beyond-catastrophic consequences that are sure to arise if the bond between us and our local partners is severed.

Starting from the second my unit landed in Iraq in March 2004 as part of Task Force Eagle, I was only able to complete my missions because of the support our allies gave and the human intel our sources provided.

When we flew northwest toward the Syrian border to insert listening patrols to investigate smuggling routes, or when I delivered troops from one battlefield to the next, I did it with the backing of our partners, who believed that the United States military wouldn’t forsake them once they served their purpose.

But because of Trump, those partners now have no reason to trust us, and our troops in harm’s way will be in even greater danger as they’ll have fewer friends to rely on in a region where enemies abound. 

Now, we’re at a turning point. Over the past couple of weeks, bipartisan congressional majorities have pleaded with Trump to reverse the course he set us on. But it’s up to Trump to stop hiding the horrors of what he has allowed to happen and actually do the right thing.

It’s going to take Trump setting aside his ego and actually working with Congress, our allies and the players in the region to come up with a long-term solution to piece back together the equilibrium he chose to shatter.

Because I’m tired of Trump wrapping himself in the flag in the morning then abandoning our troops and our values by the afternoon. He has put our country, and our world, at a crossroads. In this moment, he’d do well to show even an ounce of the bravery that our Kurdish partners show every day and start protecting American interests rather than ceding them to whichever autocrat calls him next.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a retired Army lieutenant colonel who lost both her legs while serving in Iraq, is a member of the Armed Services Committee. Follow her on Twitter: @SenDuckworth

By:  Tammy Duckworth