- Tom Brenner/Reuters
- President Donald Trump on Wednesday portrayed his Syria retreat as a big win, despite its calamitous consequences.
- Trump’s move to abandon Kurdish forces to a Turkish invasion has opened the door for an ISIS comeback, gifted a geopolitical victory to Russia, catalyzed a humanitarian crisis, and sparked bipartisan criticism in Washington.
- Trump said he showed “vision” and “courage” in Syria.
- Trump said Turkey had agreed to a “permanent” cease-fire in the region, though he expressed skepticism about it. Trump also announced that he was lifting economic sanctions imposed on Turkey as a consequence of the Syria invasion.
- The president also confirmed that some troops would remain in Syria to help protect oil fields, after previously saying he was bringing troops home.
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President Donald Trump sought to paint his disastrous Syria retreat as a success for the US on Wednesday, a day after Turkey and Russia reached an agreement that effectively solidifies Moscow’s dominance in the region.
“Today’s announcement validates our course of action with Turkey that only a couple of weeks ago was scorned. And now people are saying, ‘Wow, what a great outcome. Congratulations,'” said Trump, who continues to face widespread criticism of his recent moves in Syria. He did not specify who had congratulated him.
Trump said Turkey told him on Wednesday morning that there would be a “permanent” cease-fire in Syria, though he added that the notion of permanence in the Middle East is “questionable.” He then said his administration was lifting sanctions on Turkey that were imposed in response to its invasion of Syria.
In a tweet before his remarks, the president hailed the creation of a “safe zone” at the Turkey-Syria border via a deal between Moscow and Ankara. The area was at relative peace before the Turkish invasion, and the characterization of it as a “safe zone” dismisses both Trump’s and Turkey’s recent role in destabilizing it.
Trump in his Wednesday statement seemed to express skepticism about the phrase “safe zone,” which the Turkish government has used to justify its assault in Syria.
“An interesting term, ‘safe zone,'” Trump said, adding that “hopefully that zone will become safe.”
The president also confirmed that some troops would remain in Syria to help protect oil fields, after previously saying he was bringing troops home.
“Let someone else fight over this long bloodstained sand,” Trump said, adding that he showed “vision” and “courage” by pulling US troops out of the way and opening the door for Turkey to invade.
TRUMP on Syria's oil: "We've secured the oil and, therefore, a small number of US Troops will remain in the area. Where they have the oil. And we're going to be protecting it, and we'll be deciding what we're going to do with it in the future." pic.twitter.com/nKgmXS4yRx
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 23, 2019
Trump on Wednesday also claimed that he’d received assurances that ISIS detainees in Syria were not at risk of escaping and that some of those who’d recently escaped had been recaptured.
But Trump’s Syria envoy, James Jeffrey, on Wednesday testified to members of Congress that over 100 ISIS fighters had escaped and that officials “do not know where they are.”
As Trump walked out of the room, he did not respond to a question from the CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins on this topic.
Trump’s Syria retreat has been an embarrassment for the US and sparked a humanitarian crisis
Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northeastern Syria, made after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this month, has been calamitous.
The move has been widely characterized as a betrayal of Kurdish forces who bore the brunt of the US-led campaign against ISIS, losing roughly 11,000 fighters. The US has lost four troops in Syria since operations against ISIS began there.
Turkey invaded Syria three days after the White House announced the withdrawal of US forces from the area. The Turkish incursion targeted the Kurdish forces, whom Ankara views as terrorists.
Before Trump’s Syria retreat, the US had made assurances to the Kurds that they would be protected if they dismantled defensive positions along the Syria-Turkey border. The Kurds followed through with this, but the US did not.
Thousands of people have been displaced since Turkey invaded Syria, and there have been reports of war crimes committed against the Kurds.
Russia is gloating after achieving a major geopolitical victory thanks to Trump
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan made a deal on Tuesday for Russian and Syrian border guards to oversee the withdrawal of Kurdish forces from the Turkish border. Once the Kurdish forces are removed, Russia and Turkey will conduct joint military patrols along the border.
The deal supersedes a so-called cease-fire agreement between the Trump administration and Erdogan that expired on Tuesday. Trump on Wednesday characterized the cease-fire as a success, despite reports that it quickly fell apart and was never fully implemented.
These developments have solidified Russia’s supremacy in the region and have been a victory for Syrian President Bashar Assad – a US adversary who has been accused of war crimes – while forcing Syrian Kurds to leave their homeland.
Russia has been gloating over Trump’s self-inflicted defeat in Syria. A Kremlin spokesman on Wednesday said that “the United States has been the closest ally of the Kurds in the past few years but the States abandoned the Kurds and, in fact, betrayed them.”
Trump has offered a meandering series of defenses of his controversial decision to abandon the Kurds, ranging from saying the Kurds did not help the US in World War II to misleadingly saying he’s ending “endless wars” by bringing US troops home. In reality, US forces in Syria are being relocated to other parts of the region as Trump ramps up America’s military footprint in the Middle East.