October 26, 2019

Trump’s Chamberlain Moment

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

They are not alike in any way, Donald J. Trump and the long-deceased Arthur Neville Chamberlain, with one exception that will tie them together forever—they both betrayed an ally.

Chamberlain, because he believed he had no choice. Trump, because he simply made an irresponsible choice. Great Britain, still weak, strife-ridden and somewhat enfeebled from the First World War, was in no position to face down an aggressive and expansionist Germany in 1938, and so Britain (along with France) bowed to the demands of Hitler at Munich and allowed Germany to march into the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. It was a stab in the back of an ally.

President Trump, on the other hand, after deliberating it seems with only himself, has decided that it doesn’t serve America’s interests to be involved in conflict 7,000 miles away from our shores. So, he summarily acceded to Turkish President Erdogan’s determination to march into Syria by removing American forces, thereby leaving our allies, the Kurds, at the mercy of Turkish invading troops. While the circumstances are quite different from the Munich betrayal 81 years ago, it is no less of a betrayal of an American ally.

Britain, as noted above, had little choice. They were, economically and militarily, still pretty shaky two decades after the brutal first world war. We, on the other hand, are today, economically and militarily at the zenith of our power. After the defeat of ISIS, we maintained a small force of no more than a thousand men in the area. As President Trump stated, we really weren’t fighting, we were just there. But “just being there” meant the Turks pretty much had to leave our allies, the Kurds, alone. The Kurds had done most of the ground fighting. Our token presence kept the Turks from attacking the Kurds, who they despise.

Now, President Trump likes to say that he defeated ISIS in two months which is simply more ridiculous Trumpian braggadocio. The ground fighting, with indispensable US air support, was done largely by the Kurds who paid dearly on the battlefield, losing over 11,000 of its fighting men and women. The area in which the fighting took place is populated largely by Kurds, who hoped to be allowed to govern there when the fighting was over. Sadly, the Kurds have aspired to govern the land they populate for centuries, but the big powers were always more interested in oil and warm-water ports than people, so the Kurds have been repeatedly used and betrayed by the British, the French and now, sadly, by the United States. So far, between 130,000-150,000 civilians have been displaced, and Amnesty International reports numerous violations and war crimes against our former allies.

Trump is not the first American President to abandon the Kurds. After encouraging the Kurds to rise up against Saddam Hussein, President Bush (41) abandoned them after Saddam was allowed to remain in power, which resulted in a bloodbath. Trump, however, was the first to abandon Kurdish allies who were fighting alongside American forces.  As the Kurds have said for generations, the only friends we have are the mountains.

So poorly thought out was the decision to leave Syria (because President Trump doesn’t believe we should have US troops there 7,000 miles away from our shores) that he has now reversed course, and is deploying American troops and armor to defend Syrian oil fields. That, of course, is in addition to the 1800 additional troops President Trump is sending to protect Saudi Arabia’s oil assets. Surely, someone at the Pentagon has called and demanded to know if anyone at the White House has any idea what they are doing. Troops to defend allies who fought by our side, not so important…troops to defend oil facilities, of course.

The Kurds have now been thrown into the arms of Syria’s Bashar Assad, a murderous tyrant if ever there was one, and Russia and Turkey are now partners of sorts controlling the portion of Northeast Syria we’ve abandoned. Russian troops now occupy much of the area across north-eastern Syria that we and the Kurds, had pacified.

So now, Russian military is in place around key Syrian towns that the Kurds previously patrolled with our help. The Russians arrived immediately after a meeting between Erdogan, and Vladimir Putin. Russia’s Interfax agency has announced that Russian patrols were in place inside the town of Manbij, which was, until two weeks ago, a key US base in the region.

This has been heralded as a “big success” by President Trump. Then, again, Munich was heralded as a big success by Neville Chamberlain. “Peace in our time” he exclaimed upon returning to England. Hmmm, that didn’t turn out so well.

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6 responses to “Trump’s Chamberlain Moment”

  1. Robert borns says:

    I am not surprised that you have no other comments as on the surface your arguement makes sense. But trump makes sense with his statement that the free world continues to almost always depend on the USA to spend its financial and manpower treasure to defend the interests of ourworldwide allies and ourselves. Times have changed. We are no longer the rich uncle who alone must pay the freight for our poor shlep relatives. It has taken trump,a sometimes crude wild speaking person to do what no regular politician would do. He has awakend the electorate to demand that the citizens of this country come first. Arguements could and should put meat on the bones of that discussion of what is best for us. But the problems are so huge and until trump people seemed to be asleep when real lightweights like Obama, etc etc etc. were taking us to oblivion in places like Libya, Egypt and on and on. All of your readers could fill the internet with expansive comments on this subject. Robert borns

    • Reply to Mr. Borns: Mr. Borns reiterates standard pro-Trump positions, and those are positions worth debating. Nonetheless, the shameful betrayal of the Kurds by President Trump cannot be justified by pivoting to those same pro-Trump talking points. Erdogan wanted to march into Syria to clear the area of our allies, the Kurds. We cleared out so that he could do that. It was a historic betrayal. The Kurds fought with us against ISIS, lost thousands of men and women in the fighting, and provided significant assistance in the takedown of Baghdadi. We abandoned them. Changing the subject doesn’t change that.

  2. Robert borns says:

    You are correct to an extent. But looking at this act in a vacuum is not correct. Problems in dealing with our foes without the support of our allies basically has to be corrected. Again, we can not and should not continue to play the role of atlas alone holding the world on our shoulders.

    • Reply to Mr. Borns: Our good friend, Mr. Borns, insists on contextualizing President Trump’s Betrayal of the Kurds into something understandable and even acceptable, given what he sees as the mistakes of prior presidencies and prior administrations. But Trump’s Chamberlain moment is neither acceptable nor understandable. It is simply betrayal. One cannot contextualize the betrayal of the Kurds into something “okay” any more than one can contextualize a sows ear into a silk purse.

  3. Stephen Prover says:

    Hal, Your excellent, thoughtful essay not only makes sense “on the surface” but also after significant reflection. Mr Borns myopic recitation of Trump’s talking points is tragically reminiscent of the isolationist political philosophy widely heard in the United States prior to the US entry into WWII…
    Finally, the United States is not metaphorically balancing the world on its shoulders. There are conflicts all over the planet in which we play no role.
    Trumps actions in Syria will only not redound to benefit the US or its allies…

  4. Stephen Prover says:

    Yes.. I like terming this as contextualization… It sounds less pejorative than rationalization.

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