There’s another phrase that comes to mind in assessing Trump’s move: snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. U.S.-backed forces were on the verge of eliminating the Islamic State in northeastern Syria when Trump made his surprise announcement, which went against the recommendations of all his senior diplomatic and military advisers.
Trump did it anyway, for reasons that remain mysterious to some of his subordinates. The trigger was a Dec. 14 phone call from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. Trump had been briefed to warn the Turkish leader not to invade Syria, as he had been threatening to do. But Trump instead told Erdogan: “You know what? It’s yours. I’m leaving.”
The most dangerous consequence of Trump’s Turkish solution is that it could reignite the Islamic State. The problem begins with about 780 foreign fighters who are now being held by the SDF in a half-dozen prisons in northeastern Syria. The SDF commander, Gen. Mazloum Abdi, told me bluntly in an interview last month that he wouldn’t be able to hold the prisoners if Turkish forces invaded the areas under his control.
The Kurdish fighters “do what they promise to do,” said one U.S. official who has worked closely with them. The same, alas, cannot be said of the Trump administration.