Late on Sunday night, the White House made the shock announcement that US forces would be removed from northeast Syria and that Turkey would soon invade, but while this irked many in Washington, there are some that stand firmly behind the US President.
US President Donald Trump was immediately attacked for the move by Democrats, the foreign policy establishment, and his own Republican party for his perceived betrayal of Kurdish-led forces in Syria, who fought the US-backed ground war against the Islamic State (ISIS).
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) now face the strong possibility of Turkey, which sees the Kurdish force as an extension of its Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) advisory, attacking their territory.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted the withdrawal “will be a stain on America’s honor for abandoning the Kurds.”
Trump’s former envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition Brett McGurk slated Trump’s “erratic swings” on Syria.
It seemed like every ‘who’s who’ in Washington hated the move. However, the reality is that many American conservatives are behind Trump’s decision. A significant part of the Republican base is now largely against America’s wars in the Middle East.
Monday night’s coverage of Trump’s decision by Fox News, a major conservative network, paints a rather different picture to the reactions of Graham and McGurk. The homepage linked to TV host Tucker Carlson’s monologue on Syria, as well as an article reporting Republican Senator Rand Paul’s criticism of the “neocon war caucus” in the senate on Monday.
Carlson is one of Trump’s staunchest supporters on reducing US troop numbers in the Middle East. The popularity of his show, which is the second most-watched cable news program with around 3,000,000 viewers every night, represents a shift in the American right away from an aggressive Middle East policy.
There is still a place in the Republican party for Graham and the neoconservative interventionism of the George W. Bush era, but there is now Carlson and his ilk who favor a more non-interventionist approach.
Carlson made his disdain for the US presence in post-ISIS Syria clear on Monday.
“For once, Americans are coming home from a Middle Eastern tarpit, rather than staying forever,” Carlson told his audience.
This isn’t new for Carlson. In September, he reportedly convinced Trump to not attack Iran in response to a downed US drone in the Persian Gulf. Carlson’s opinions and huge audience show that there is support for leaving Syria among American conservatives.
Senator Paul is another example of how a wing of the Republican party that is behind Trump on Syria. Paul’s father, former Congressman Ron Paul, was known for blaming the September 11, 2001 attacks on “blowback” from US policies such as the bombing of Iraq in the 1990s. The elder Paul’s presidential runs never went anywhere, but now his son is a senator.
On Monday, Paul told Fox News Trump is right to get out of northeast Syria.
“They always want to stay at war,” he said of Graham and other senators. “We need to not think that it’s always the US’s responsibility to fight every war.”
Other right-wing sites Daily Caller and The Federalist also ran articles supportive of Trump’s decision.
On Tuesday, Trump kicked back at claims he has left the Syrian Kurds to face a Turkish onslaught, calling the Kurds “special people and wonderful fighters”.
He also vaguely threatened to hurt the Turkish economy if Ankara does any “unnecessary fighting” in Syria, though he did not specify what that means.
Trump’s frustration with the US presence in the Middle East is not new, and he says he is fulfilling a campaign promise to stop “endless wars”. He notably told Bush’s brother Jeb that the 2003 US invasion of Iraq was a “big, fat mistake” in a 2016 election presidential debate.
Trump has also shown a desire to punish European states for what he perceives as their wrongs against the US. He repeatedly told them to contribute more defense spending to NATO, and threatened to release European ISIS affiliates detained in Syria back into Europe on many occasions. It is therefore unsurprising that he now says he is going through with his plan to withdraw from Syria, leaving all the alleged European ISIS fighters in limbo.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights warns that a Turkish attack on northeast Syria will lead to a new wave of displacement into the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which already hosts nearly a million internally displaced persons (IDPs). In the US, many people see the difficult and potentially devastating predicament Kurds, Arabs, Christians, and others now face in northeast Syria.
However, the US is also a nation with war fatigue. Americans born after the September 11 can now enlist to fight in Afghanistan. Many Americans are sympathetic to northeast Syria’s plight, but others want to get out of the region – no matter the cost to the people living there.