The Wall Street Journal – What a fiasco. Foreign-policy blunders often take months or years to reveal their damaging consequences, but the harm from President Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of U.S. forces from northern Syria is playing out almost in real time.
Critics said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would invade northern Syria despite Mr. Trump’s public warnings, and the Turkish strongman did. Critics said our Kurdish allies would strike a deal with Syria’s Bashar Assad to defend themselves, and the Kurds have. Critics said Islamic State prisoners held by the Kurds would be released and scatter to wage jihad again, and they are.
The mess compounded Monday when Mr. Trump authorized sanctions against several Turkish officials and agencies who are “contributing to Turkey’s destabilizing actions in northeast Syria.” The sanctions include financial measures and barring entry to the U.S. Mr. Trump also said he’s ending trade talks with Turkey and raising steel tariffs to 50%.
Mr. Trump now finds himself back in an economic and diplomatic brawl with Turkey that he said he wanted to avoid. Wouldn’t it have been easier simply to tell Mr. Erdogan, on that famous phone call two Sundays ago, that the U.S. wouldn’t tolerate a Turkish invasion against the Kurds and would use air power to stop it? Mr. Erdogan would have had to back down and continue negotiating a Syrian safe zone with the Kurds and the U.S.
Mr. Trump is also making matters worse with his unserious justifications. “After defeating 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, I largely moved our troops out of Syria. Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land,” he tweeted Monday. “Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte. I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”
We suppose the Napoleon line was a joke, but the world is laughing at an American President. Mr. Trump was able to project an image of strength in his early days as he prosecuted the war against ISIS and used force to impose a cost on Mr. Assad for using chemical weapons. But that image has faded as he has indulged his inner Rand Paul and claims at every opportunity that the main goal of his foreign policy is to put an end to “endless wars.”
This is simple-minded isolationism, and it’s a message to the world’s rogues that a U.S. President has little interest in engaging on behalf of American allies or interests. Friends like Israel and Saudi Arabia are quietly dismayed, while Iran, Russia and Hezbollah can’t believe Mr. Trump has so glibly abandoned U.S. commitments and military partners.
By now it’s not unreasonable to conclude that Mr. Trump’s foreign policy can be distilled into two tactics—sanctions and tariffs. Mr. Trump wields them willy-nilly against friend and foe alike as substitutes for diplomacy and the credible threat of military force.
Mr. Trump won’t like to hear it, but the Syrian mess is hurting him at home too. Republicans who have stood by him through the Russia fight and more are questioning his judgment as Commander in Chief in an increasingly dangerous world. With impeachment looming, he can’t afford to alienate more friends.