Wednesday, October 16, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lost it, according to everyone but him.

Today was an eventful, terrible day for Trump in the Syria debacle. He was rebuked by the House in a 354-60 vote condemning his decision to let Turkey invade northern Syria and attack the United States' former Kurdish allies. Two-thirds of House Republicans joined every Democratic member in the majority on a resolution which directly criticizes Trump.

Meanwhile, military leaders were forced to launch an airstrike against a recently evacuated American base, in order to prevent ammunition and weapons from falling into the hands of the Turkish, Russian, and pro-Assad forces expected to overtake it. The American retreat has been hasty and chaotic, because troops had essentially no warning that it would be necessary. Turkey's invasion, and the subsequent destabilization of the region, happened almost immediately after Trump gave Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan permission to move in. Because Trump didn't consult the Defense Department at all before making that sudden decision for reasons that remain unclear, the actual troops on the ground were caught off guard.

Forced to address the ever-worsening headlines, Trump appeared belligerent in front of reporters at a press conference with the visiting president of Italy. He said that America's former Kurdish allies in the area were "no angels." (In reality, the SDF did the actual on-the-ground fighting against the Islamic State in Syria. Trump himself, personally, took credit for the destruction of the Islamic State's territory later in the day.) He insisted that somehow only the most harmless ISIS insurgents escaped from prisons that the Kurds had been guarding before being forced to flee by the Turkish invasion. He claimed that he had imposed "massive sanctions" on Turkey. (That's a lie, but it's not clear that Trump knew what he was talking about.) 

Trump also said that he didn't care about Syria because it was "7,000 miles away," apparently trying to say that nothing that happened in the Middle East could really affect the United States. (Israel, two-thirds of the world's oil reserves, and the countries where most of the 9/11 attackers came from are also roughly that far away from the U.S. mainland.)

Trump was even angrier and more defensive in a meeting with lawmakers later this afternoon, insulting Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi personally—as well as his own appointees—and suggesting that Democrats should be rooting for ISIS because, as he understood it, they were both "communists." People in the room at the time called it a "meltdown."

After a few hours of unflattering TV coverage, Trump re-emerged on Twitter to insist that it was Pelosi, not him, who was showing signs of mental illness.

Why does this matter?

  • Even by Trump's standards, this is a nightmare situation.
  • Presidents who can't bear to hear criticism of their decisions, no matter how many people on both sides of the aisle are making it, are unfit for office.
  • The Middle East actually is pretty important to American national security.