Feaver: Why Undermining the Kurds Could Hurt U.S. Relations With Allies

Turkey’s military has entered Syria following President Trump’s decision to remove U.S. troops

President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria without the traditional consultation of military and other leaders means he “alone bears the political price for any adverse developments,” says a Duke political scientist.

That scenario already appears likely.

Turkey’s military began bombing the area as its troops crossed into Syria Wednesday in an operation already planned but not carried out until the U.S. troop withdrawal. Turkey’s stated goal was to root out Syrian Kurdish fighters, an American ally in the fight against ISIS. Turkey considers the Kurds terrorists because of their connection to Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has fought for their autonomy in southern Turkey for decades.

Democrats and even some of Trump’s fellow Republicans denounced the president’s decision. Duke political scientist Peter Feaver, who worked from 2005-2007 as a national security adviser in the President George W. Bush administration, said Trump’s rash decision-making is largely to blame.

“When the president makes a decision in this fashion, abruptly flip-flopping from a settled interagency process, ignoring the earnest advice of virtually all of his own national security advisers and breaking with all of his political supporters except the most extreme isolationist fringe of the party, then he magnifies the risk to him and to the country,” Feaver said.

“The risk to him personally is that he alone bears the political price for any adverse developments. The risk to the country is that the haphazard way he has made policy, breaking with all the work his own administration has done in the past several years, will make it harder to get any other country to go out on a limb to back the United States in future ventures.”

Trump’s actions could hurt relationships with allies down the road, Feaver added. Most leaders help the United States if they think we will aid them later. But that depends on leaders trusting the U.S. will return the favor, Feaver said.

“It is a myth that most international actors only do what is in their narrowest, most parochial, most short-term calculation of material interest in the moment, ignoring what happened before and what is coming down the pike,” Feaver said. “In the real world, most political actors try to balance short- and long-term interests, and see value in, for instance, helping the United States today in the hopes of being helped by the United States tomorrow. That depends on trusting the United States to do likewise.

“President Trump’s actions have undermined that trust and made it that much harder to build effective coalitions the next time.”