U.S. President Donald Trump has declared a “permanent” ceasefire in northern Syria, leaving Turkey and Russia in charge of swaths of land and pushing out America’s Kurdish allies.
In a White House address on Wednesday, Mr. Trump framed the development in isolationist terms, casting it as part of a broader plan to reorient U.S. foreign policy toward non-interventionism.
“Let someone else fight over this long-bloodstained sand,” he said. “The job of our military is not to police the world.”
The President said most American troops would pull back from Syria, but some would remain to secure the country’s oil reserves. Mr. Trump, who has previously mused about extracting petroleum and other natural resources from war zones for American use, did not say what he had in mind for Syria’s oil.
“We’ve secured the oil,” he said. “We’re going to be protecting it, and we’ll be deciding what we’re going to do with it in the future.”
Mr. Trump framed the U.S. retreat as the fulfillment of his campaign-trail promise to adopt a non-interventionist policy as part of his nationalistic, America First agenda.
But it drew anger from both the country’s foreign-policy establishment and congressional Republicans, who accused Mr. Trump of betraying a key ally in the fight against the Islamic State by leaving the Kurds to the whims of Turkish, Russian and Syrian autocrats. Mr. Trump needs his caucus onside as he faces impeachment proceedings.
The ceasefire makes permanent a deal that Mr. Trump made last week with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, under which the U.S. allowed Turkey to occupy part of northern Syria in exchange for Turkey allowing Kurdish forces to leave the area without attacking them. Under the terms of the deal, Mr. Trump will also lift sanctions on Ankara imposed after its initial invasion of Syria, including 50-per-cent tariffs on Turkish steel.
In addition, the U.S. will not interfere in a separate pact Mr. Erdogan made with Russian President Vladimir Putin that allows Russian troops and the forces of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Mr. Putin’s, to occupy formerly Kurdish-controlled areas, one Trump administration official told reporters in a White House background briefing.
Mr. Erdogan wants a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border to return millions of refugees who have entered Turkey since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, and to keep Kurdish forces away from Turkey. Ankara views those forces as terrorists.
The crisis began earlier this month when, after a phone call with Mr. Erdogan, Mr. Trump said the U.S. would stand aside as Turkey invaded Kurdish-held areas in Syria. After Turkish forces killed hundreds of Kurds and prompted an international outcry, the Trump administration agreed on the ceasefire with Mr. Erdogan.
Republican lawmakers lined up Wednesday to demand Mr. Trump leave U.S. troops in Syria.
Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the foreign-affairs committee, said leaving the Kurds to fend for themselves would make it less likely anyone else would want to ally with the U.S. in future.
“It undermines other countries’ views of our reliability," he told The Globe and Mail at the Capitol. "And, by the way, China and Russia and Iran and others are pointing that out any chance they get.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, one of Mr. Trump’s staunchest congressional allies, said he would continue to gather support in Congress for a bill that would impose harsher sanctions on Turkey in a bid to get a better deal for the Kurds. Mr. Graham said he accepted Mr. Erdogan’s desire for a buffer along Turkey’s border, but he wanted to see Mr. Putin’s and Mr. al-Assad’s forces out of the area.
“We ain’t going to accept no Russians,” he said. “A win-win is protecting our relationship with the Kurds, but also giving space to Turkey. That’s my goal.”
The rupture between Mr. Trump and his caucus comes at a critical time. He is facing an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives. If the Democratic-controlled House passes one or more articles of impeachment, it will be up to the Republican-majority Senate to decide whether to remove him from office.
Lisel Hintz, an expert on Turkey at Johns Hopkins University, said the U.S. has “abdicated responsibility” in northern Syria and put the Kurds in a dangerous situation. But she contended that Mr. Trump’s decision-making is so chaotic, it is impossible to see this move as a broader change of the U.S. position in the Middle East. Mr. Trump’s initial decision to pull back from Syria, for instance, resulted abruptly from a telephone call with Mr. Erdogan.
“It’s a fundamental mistake to see this as a shift in U.S. foreign policy because I don’t think we can speak of a co-ordinated U.S. foreign policy,” Prof. Hintz said in an interview. “We see policies shift so quickly because of phone calls."
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