On Saturday, south of the town of Tel Abyad, a city once held by ISIS terrorists until Kurd fighters of the YPG and Free Syrian Army liberated it in June 2015, militiamen loyal to Turkey’s strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, dragged Hevrin Kalaf, the Secretary-General of the Future Syria Party, a pro-Kurdish political force founded in 2018 with American support, from her car and executed her, along with her driver, leaving her body to rot on the side of the road.
Kurdish Human right activist & The secretary-general of the Future Syria Party,Ms #Hervin_Khalaf ,has been raped & then stoned to death by #Turkey backed Jihadists near #Hasakah during Turkey's ethnic cleansing operation against #Kurds in Syria. @brett_mcgurk #amnesty pic.twitter.com/tQDUjmaZDe
— Botin Kurdistani (@kurdistannews24) October 13, 2019
“Here lies the body of pigs,” said one of the pro-Turk assassins, kicking the dead body of the unarmed, 35-year-old Ms. Kalaf that was lying in the rubble beside the street, her hair and face covered with dirt. “She was taken out of her car during a Turkish-backed attack and executed by Turkish-backed mercenary factions on the International Road between Qamishlo and Manbij, with her driver who was also martyred,” read a statement from the Syrian Democratic Council, the political wing of the Syrian Defence Force that defeated ISIL in Syria, absorbing tens of thousands of casualties fighting the radical terrorist group in alliance with American special forces under the cover of U.S, airpower.
Outraged by the murder, former Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL Brett McGurk called the killing “a war crime” in a tweet he posted late Saturday night:
Turkish state-backed media hails a “successful operation” to “neutralize” an unarmed 35-year old woman working to unite Arabs, Christians, and Kurds in NE Syria. Ms. Hevrin Khalef was reportedly dragged from a vehicle and shot to death. That’s a war crime.
That sentiment was echoed, ironically, by U.S. Secretary of Defence Mark Esper who, on Meet the Press Sunday morning said, “It appears to be,” when asked if Turkey is committing war crimes against Kurds, including civilians, many of whom have been seen summarily executed in videos taken by their killers.
“It’s a very terrible situation over there, a situation caused by the Turks. Despite our opposition, they decided to make this incursion,” said Mr. Esper.
But his claim the president opposed the Turk invasion of Kurdish territory was contradicted by Mr. Trump’s own tweet Sunday morning where he said the two sides have been fighting for years. Let them, he tweeted:
Do you remember two years ago when Iraq was going to fight the Kurds in a different part of Syria. Many people wanted us to fight with the Kurds against Iraq, who we just fought for. I said no, and the Kurds left the fight, twice. Now the same thing is happening with Turkey………..The Kurds and Turkey have been fighting for many years. Turkey considers the PKK the worst terrorists of all. Others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other. Let them! We are monitoring the situation closely. Endless Wars!
Why Betraying the Kurds Will Cost Trump the White House
It isn’t just being on a different page than his defense secretary that will cost President Donald Trump his job – the president’s off-the-cuff style and lack of policy chops has put him at odds with more knowledgeable and professional cabinet officials before with no discernable loss of support from his base in the past.
What will cost Mr. Trump the 2020 election over the betrayal of the Kurds is four things: 1. Loss of support from the military. 2. Loss of support from members of the GOP. 3. Loss of support among evangelical Christians. And, 4., Loss of general voter support as they watch news accounts of a people massacred because we betrayed them.
Loss of Military Support
“I am ashamed for the first time in my career,” said an unnamed Green Beret to Fox News National Security Correspondent Jennifer Griffin. “We met every single security agreement. The Kurds met every single agreement. There was NO threat to the Turks – NONE – from this side of the border,” the special forces soldier told Ms. Griffin. “This is insanity,” she reported him saying. “I don’t know what they call atrocities but they are happening.”
The Turks, American troops on the ground in the region have reported, are using Islamist terrorists from Al-Qaeda and other groups in their fight against the Kurds and the Syrian Christians they protect. Having fought against Islamists for decades, seeing them uniting to massacre Kurdish troops who took the brunt of the casualties defeating ISIL so American troops didn’t have to do the bloodiest fighting, isn’t sitting well with U.S. military members.
“(President Trump) doesn’t understand the repercussions of this. [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan is an Islamist, not a level headed actor,” the Green Beret speaking to Ms. Griffin said, adding “The Kurds are as close to Western thinking in the Middle East as anyone. It’s a shame. It’s horrible…. This is not helping the ISIS fight.”
Senior officers and front line troops won’t buy the president’s claim that Turkish President Erdogan launched his assault on America’s Kurdish allies without his consent. They know that operations in the region are coordinated in advance to avoid unintentional casualties between friendly troops. With American special forces operating in the area, our men and women in uniform won’t believe the Turks would have launched their massive campaign against the Kurds unless they told the Americans first they were doing so and got the okay to do so at the top level.
In short, American military officials know we turned our backs on valuable and loyal allies, ones that fought a hated enemy with valor and distinction. And that won’t sit well with professional warriors who will see the retreat of American forces in the region as a dishonorable betrayal of respected allies.
Loss of GOP Support
The United States has been at war in the Middle East for more than 25 years and finding reliable, loyal and dependable allies in the region has been had to do.
But, with the Kurds, America knew she had friends who were not only battle-tested and loyal, but also eager to show the U.S. they were willing to do more than just fight for their own initiatives; they were also willing to take on the toughest battles to show Washington how far they would go to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their American allies.
That’s why so many Republican officials were infuriated when President Trump, following a call with Turkey’s leader, decided to pull American troops out of the path of Turkish aggressors, effectively giving Ankara the green light to attack the Kurds. His rationale for the retreat was the battle between the Kurds and the Turks was none of America’s business. “Now the Kurds are fighting for their land, just so you understand,” the president responded when asked by a reporter if betraying our allies in Syria would make it harder for America to find allies in the future. “As somebody wrote in a very very powerful article today, they didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy,” said Mr. Trump.
As Bill Kristol tweeted, that type of thinking didn’t serve the world well when Neville Chamberlain used it to argue against confronting the rise of Nazism in Germany.
Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), normally one of Mr. Trump’s most vociferous defenders, said, in a joint statement with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), “This invasion will ensure the resurgence of ISIS in Syria, embolden America’s enemies including Al Qaeda, Iran, and Russia, and launch yet another endless conflict in what had been, until today, one of the most safe and stable areas of Syria and a region experimenting with the best model of local governance currently available in that war-torn country.”
On Fox and Friends, Sen. Graham said, “I know that every military person has told him don’t do this. If he follows through with this, it’d be the biggest mistake of his presidency.”
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, a likely future Republican presidential candidate, condemned Mr. Trump’s move, stating it put future American efforts to build coalitions against dangerous enemies at risk. “We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake,” she said, adding that American credibility is at risk.
The danger posed by these (and many other) statements condemning the president’s retreat in Syria coming from Republican allies is they undermine the GOP argument against impeachment.
That argument is the president has never endangered American national security or used his office for personal benefit and that the attempt to remove him from office is, therefore, purely partisan.
But, as Republicans continue to criticize the president’s decision to abandon the Kurds, that argument starts to leak water. And should a few senators other than Mitt Romney (say, Susan Collins, Mike Lee, Rob Portman, Lisa Murkowski and Lamar Alexander) join with Democrats in supporting the president’s removal from office, even if that effort fails, the damage to Mr. Trump’s re-election effort could be fatal
Loss of Evangelical Support
If sleeping with a porn star, committing adultery with each of his three wives, owning casinos and worshiping money wasn’t enough to cause evangelical voters to turn their backs on Donald Trump, one could be forgiven for thinking nothing could.
But betraying the people who have defended the dwindling Christian population in the Muslim Middle East appears to one of the few things that could cause the religious right to condemn a president some have called a gift from God.
NYMag writer Eric Levitz wrote:
The Evangelical right has forgiven Trump for a wide variety of deadly sins, but the movement is deeply invested in the fate of Syria’s Christian minority, which could fare worse under the rule of Turkey’s Islamist government than it currently does under the Kurds’ secular leadership. On Monday, televangelist Pat Robertson sorrowfully informed his faithful that if Trump allowed the Turkish invasion to proceed, he would be “in danger of losing the mandate of heaven.” As of this writing, it is unclear whether God is now an undecided voter. But Trump does appear to be at risk of losing the mandate of Franklin Graham.
While he hasn’t yet lost the support of Mr. Graham, son of the famous Southern Baptist minister and evangelical leader Billy Graham, Mr. Trump risks losing him and the the 80% of fellow evangelicals who voted for him in 2016 over abandoning the kurds. To evangelicals, leaving the Syrian Christians living under the Kurds mostly secular governance to live under the Islamist rule of Mr. Erdogan amounts to, in their view, an attack on religious freedom.
“TODAY I ask that you join me in praying for the lives affected by the White House decision to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria. Both Democrat & Republican leaders are deeply concerned bc this would be, in essence, abandoning our closest allies there — the Kurdish people. Also pray for the Christians who the Kurds have been protecting. They could be annihilated. Would you pray w/me that Pres. @realDonaldTrump will reconsider? Thousands of lives hang in the balance,” Mr. Graham tweeted.
Evangelical talk show host Erick Erickson, who was originally #NeverTrump, but later became a supporter of the president’s, said, on twitter, “Hey @SpeakerPelosi, maybe do a vote to initiate impeachment STAT, have the committee get out articles by tonight and over to the Senate, and perhaps we’ll still have time to save some of the Kurds.”
Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who enjoys strong support among American evangelicals and who is a close ally of President Trump’s, condemned the attack against the Kurds, saying, “Israel strongly condemns the Turkish invasion of the Kurdish areas in Syria and warns against the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds by Turkey and its proxies’” Mr. Netanyahu added, “Israel is prepared to extend humanitarian assistance to the gallant Kurdish people.”
Why are evangelical Christians, who made up 26% of the 2016 election, so concerned about the fate of Kurds in Syria? Because they view the Kurds as the only force in the region willing and capable of standing up against the Turkish and Syrian Islamist forces aligned against the shrinking Syrian Christian population.
“Turkey aims to kill and destroy us and to finish the genocide against our people,” said the Syriac Military Council, the Christian contingent in the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), in a statement released after the Turks crossed the border. “We hope and pray that as we have defended the world against ISIS, the world will not abandon us now.”
If evangelical ministers across the country lose their faith in Donald Trump as a defender of religious freedom, they may be less passionate about getting their faithful to the polls in November. Considering 80% of white evangelicals voted for Mr. Trump against Hillary Clinton, there is no portion of the electorate more important to the president’s re-election than this group.
Loss of General Support
Even in this age of re-surging nationalism and Trump-inspired animosity towards foreigners, Americans are still greatly moved by images of people, especially children, suffering. As the Turks continue to indiscriminately attack Kurdish women, children and other civilians, U.S. news outlets will bombard consumers with daily images of the suffering brought about by Mr. Trump’s decision to remove the American military barrier that had, for years, prevented this war.
It will be easy for the president’s opponents, both inside and outside the Republican Party to blame him for every dead child, every grieving mother, every managed body displayed on the evening news and on the front cover of the morning paper.
In addition, it makes the president look weak, like he was unwilling or unable to stand up against a foe – ISIL and Syria – previously defeated by President Barack Obama. Voters will see in Mr. Trump a man who runs away from a fight when the going gets tough, a perception of the man contrary to the tough guy image he works hard to inculcate into the minds of his fans.
If he isn’t willing to stand up to ISIL and Turkey, voters will ask, why should we believe he will stand up to Iran, China or North Korea? Every time the news shows the body of a dead Kurdish or Syrian Christian child, voters will wonder if, next, the news will show the bodies of the children of our South Korean allies or, perhaps, our Jewish allies in Israel.
And when the president says, by pulling out American troops, he’s making good on a campaign promise to put a stop to the “endless” wars our country has fought in the Middle East, voters will see that, by paving the way for Turkey’s incursion, he’s really planted the seeds for a much bigger, much bloodier war in the region than we would have fought had we maintained the small force we had there preserving the peace agreement between the sides.
ISIL terrorists freed from jails no longer manned by Kurds will commit terrible atrocities when they are freed. Turkey will conduct a long-term occupation of Kurdish and Syrian territory that will destabilize the region and invite attacks against their forces and their people back home by terrorists. Iran will see an opportunity to gain influence in the region, as will Saudi Arabia.
Because Mr. Trump retreated in Syria, leaving loyal allies to die, voters will watch the area fall apart and descend into chaos. And they will know who to blame when tens of thousands of American troops are sent back in to fix the mess that Mr. Trump shouldn’t have caused in the first place.