- Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, one of the top voices on foreign policy in Congress, said that America’s reputation might never recover from the consequences of President Donald Trump’s Syria retreat.
- Trump abandoned Kurdish forces who bore the brunt of the US-led campaign against ISIS to a Turkish military assault.
- Turkey invaded last Wednesday, and the consequences have been disastrous.
- “It might be impossible” to repair America’s reputation, Murphy told Insider. “We might not be able to recover from this.”
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Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy did not mince his words when asked about the damage President Donald Trump has dealt to America’s reputation by abandoning US-allied Kurdish forces in Syria to a Turkish military invasion.
“It might be impossible” to repair America’s reputation, Murphy told Insider on Tuesday. He added: “We might not be able to recover from this.”
Murphy said that combined with the Ukraine scandal currently engulfing the Trump administration, the president’s Syria retreat may have permanently undermined US credibility in the Middle East and beyond.
“Nobody is going to want to do business with the US if they think they’re going to be made into a political pawn for the president’s reelection operation, or they’re going to be double-crossed,” Murphy said.
Murphy, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is an increasingly prominent voice in global affairs, went on to say, “I can’t imagine a worse one-two punch for American credibility than the Ukraine scandal and the abandonment of the Kurds.”
The Ukraine scandal is centered around a whistleblower complaint that accuses Trump of abusing the power of his office by urging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, over baseless allegations. The complaint has sparked in impeachment inquiry into Trump in the House.
Amid all of this, Trump pulled US troops from northeast Syria. In doing so, Trump effectively abandoned Kurdish forces who bore the brunt of the US-led campaign against ISIS — losing approximately 11,000 fighters along the way — to a Turkish assault.
Trump’s Syria retreat was announced on October 6 after a phone call between him and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Within three days, Turkey invaded.
The consequences of Trump’s decision and Turkey’s incursion into Syria have been swift and disastrous: ISIS is regrouping, Russia has won a major geopolitical victory, and there’s an escalating humanitarian crisis in Syria that threatens to spill over into neighboring countries and further destabilize a fragile region. Over 160,000 people have been displaced since the incursion began, and there are already reports of war crimes committed by Turkish-backed Syrian Arab fighters against the Kurds.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have called Trump’s decision a “stab in the back” and they’ve now turned to US adversaries in Damascus and Moscow for protection. Meanwhile, US forces who served alongside the Kurds against ISIS have referred to Trump’s decision as a “stain on the American conscience.”
‘We’re a laughing stock. We’re the butt of jokes’
“We’re a laughing stock. We’re the butt of jokes. Nobody is going to want to partner with us now,” Murphy said on Tuesday. “And I don’t know that a Democratic president can recover from this. It’s just devastating what President Trump has done to American credibility.”
Murphy is not alone in worrying that Trump has inflicted irrevocable damage to America’s credibility.
Shortly the Syria retreat was announced, Brett McGurk, who resigned in late 2018 as Trump’s special envoy on the fight against ISIS, told MSNBC: “The value of a handshake from the United States of America, whether from the president or from diplomats…is depreciating by the week. Nobody can believe anything we say…This major decision was taken without any consultation.”
—Deadline White House (@DeadlineWH) October 7, 2019
Echoing these sentiments, former Defense Secretary and ex-CIA director Leon Panetta on Wednesday said: “Every part of this decision has weakened the US. Most importantly, it has undercut our credibility in the world. There isn’t an ally that we’ve around the world that doesn’t now distrust us and worry about whether or not we will stand by our word.”
—Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) October 16, 2019
‘We’ve got a real crisis on our hands as ISIS licks their lips’
The Turkish invasion has led the US and the Kurds to suspend operations against ISIS.
Since the incursion began, ISIS has claimed responsibility for at least two attacks in Syria and hundreds of ISIS-related prisoners escaped from a camp in the northern part of the country over the weekend. The Kurds had been detaining roughly 11,000 ISIS militants, but now their attention is on repelling the Turkish assault.
“The huge risk to the US and our allies in Europe is that ISIS reconstitutes itself,” Murphy said of the situation. “We’ve stopped the fight against ISIS, and they are likely going to have their ranks swelled by detainees that have escaped or will escape.”
Murphy said there’s no reason to trust Turkey, Russia, or Assad’s government when it comes to holding ISIS prisoners.
“I think we’ve got a real crisis on our hands as ISIS licks their lips,” Murphy added. “This was the worst possible time to give ISIS the boost, because they were already in the middle of regrouping — especially in Iraq.”
Trump has offered a slew of inconsistent and ahistorical defenses to his decision, including that the Kurds did not help the US during World War II.
In the course of about a week, Trump went from rejecting the notion he abandoned the Kurds while calling them “special people and wonderful fighters” to stating that the situation has “nothing to do” with the US and that the Kurds are “no angels.”
‘US troops are running for their life right now’
Trump has also defended his decision by making the case he’s moving to end “endless wars.”
Murphy on Tuesday conceded that keeping US troops in northern Syria is not a long-term solution to issues in the region, but maintained that Trump’s approach only exacerbated problems.
“It’s not outrageous to come up with a plan to withdraw troops out of Syria, what’s outrageous is to do it with no plan,” Murphy said.”Everybody knew that eventually we were going to pull these troops out, but these troops were supposed to be there to give us the space in order to create a diplomatic solution so that the Kurds could live in safety in northeast Syria.”
Murphy said it’s “appalling” that Trump didn’t even try to negotiate a political solution in northeast Syria, and that he didn’t give any warning to the Kurds or US forces. He added: “Remember, it’s not just the Kurds who are running for their life, US troops are running for their life right now because he pulled this out of a hat without warning to anybody eight days ago.”
Last Friday, US troops in northern Syria came under fire from Turkish artillery. No Americans were hurt, but the Pentagon subsequently announced the US would move to withdraw remaining US forces in the area on top of the small group pulled out of northeast Syria. The situation has placed strains on relations between the US and Turkey, who are both NATO members, and in turn has created tensions within the historic alliance.
When asked whether he thought Trump was cognizant of the potential consequences of his Syria retreat before moving forward with the decision, including the benefits to Russia, Murphy said, “Who knows? Who knows what he knows and what he doesn’t know.”