There’s a reason you don’t hear much from Barack Obama these days, even as the news cycles get crazier and Trump’s troubles deepen. And it’s not because the “fraternity of presidents” requires O to maintain the same sort of respectful silence towards his successor as George W. Bush maintained for Obama himself. Trump obviously isn’t and won’t be part of that fraternity; criticism of Obama remains a staple of his own rhetoric.
O keeps his mouth shut because he understands he’s a perfect foil for the president. Republicans dislike him deeply and think most of his policies were stupid. The surest way to get GOPers who are troubled by the Ukraine business to rally around Trump would be for Obama to blast him over it. Likewise, the surest way to get Republicans to rethink their discomfort about abandoning the Kurds would be for O to slam Trump for ordering it — especially given how pitiful Obama’s own Syria judgment often was. There was never a good option on whether to intervene or not but O somehow made a bad situation worse, humiliating himself by refusing to enforce his own stated “red line” against the use of WMDs by Assad and then half-assing an attempt to arm Syrian rebels. By the end of his presidency his most prominent diplomatic initiative was to reach out to the Shiite terrorist state sponsoring Assad for a nuclear deal. His Syria policy was so bad that Trump’s decision to bomb a Syria airfield early in his presidency after Assad used poison gas again is the only one I can think that actually earned him some grudging favorable comparisons to O in the media even among Obama alumni (mostly anonymously).
Again, Obama grasps all of this and has kept his mouth shut, depriving Trump of an easy way to rally Republicans around him. Alas for Dems, not everyone who worked for him is as shrewd as he is:
— The Late Show (@colbertlateshow) October 8, 2019
Show of hands: Who feels *worse* about Trump’s judgment on Syria now that the Obama White House’s foreign policy brain trust has condemned it?
If you want a reason to worry about the decision to evacuate northern Syria (and there are many), read this account of how haphazardly it appears to have been made. No one in the field, starting with the Kurds, had any notice that the American shield protecting them from a Turkish onslaught was about to disappear.
According to multiple current and former U.S. officials, the White House’s announcement of the decision late Sunday night blindsided not just America’s Kurdish partners in the fight against the Islamic State militant group, or ISIS, in Syria, but almost everyone — senior officials at the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House, lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and U.S. allies in Europe and the Middle East…
Sunday’s phone call between Trump and Erdogan was held to try to ease the Turkish leader’s fury that he didn’t get a one-on-one meeting with Trump last month on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, according to three current and former officials. Erdogan made it known to U.S. officials that he was not happy his only interaction with Trump during the gathering of world leaders in New York was at a large reception, according to the officials…
But Sunday’s phone call didn’t go as expected, officials said. Erdogan was adamant about Turkey going into Syria, officials said. Even Trump’s offer of a White House visit wasn’t enough to deter him.
Trump told Erdogan that a moderate incursion, such as clearing out a safe zone, would be acceptable, officials said. But he said a large invasion that leads to major combat operations would be unacceptable, officials said.
Reportedly Trump threatened on the call to withdraw the American troops who are serving as a buffer between Turkey and the Kurds if Turkey went ahead and launched a major military push instead of something more limited. Erdogan called his bluff. Go ahead and withdraw. I’ll blow them to bits. So that’s what we’re doing, although naturally Trump is spinning it as some sort of methodical attempt on his part to keep his promise about bringing American troops home.
And somehow, Erdogan is getting his White House visit anyway.
Michael Weiss peers into the not-very-distant future and sees a winner emerging from the Turkish/Kurdish conflagration:
For years, ISIS has watched as America’s reliance on the YPG/PKK has enervated the second-largest army in NATO. It has cleverly preyed upon this tension by waging terror attacks in Turkey it declined to claim credit for, knowing full well that Erdogan and his government might blame them on the PKK, which it did on more than one occasion.
Turkey, meanwhile, had maintained a see-no-evil policy (or worse) with respect to ISIS as its sovereign territory became a staging ground for exported jihad, not to mention a fallback base of operations for the many agents of ISIS’s Amniyat, or intelligence service, who were dispatched out of Syria and into Western Europe.
In other words, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (yes, he’s still alive) exploited the Kurdish Question before and will exploit again now that all-out war between Turkey and Syria’s Kurds is a foregone conclusion.
America will probably be lighting military and political fires that help ISIS spread, then putting them out, then lighting them again for the indefinite future as political currents in the Middle East shift. Maybe Rice will catch on in the next Democratic administration and show us amateurs what to do.