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At the end of two weeks of fighting in Syria, the United States has paid a high price to get perhaps 1,000 U.S. military personnel out of harm’s way.
An area in the process of stabilizing under a semi-autonomous constitution aimed at restoring rights to Kurds, Christians, Yazidis, and Arab Muslims has reverted to a turbulent scene of atrocities and jihadist movements.
An Atlantic alliance lies in the dustbin, as European leaders have gone to great lengths denouncing Trump’s unilateral move to abandon Kurdish partners long supported by NATO. On Oct. 21 Germany’s defense minister called for an international zone in northern Syria coordinated with Russia and Turkey alone.
Russia is now ensconced at NATO’s doorstep under a formal agreement with Turkey, patrolling the Syria-Turkey border. Vladimir Putin will call the next moves in northeast Syria. Russia and Turkey together may decide the future of Syria’s oil-rich northeast. They may be the ones to tie up water rights along its Euphrates hydroelectric system.
Pledging to curb migration, Trump has launched another humanitarian crisis, with more than 300,000 Syrians fleeing in under 10 days.
Pledging to curb migration, Trump has launched another humanitarian crisis, with more than 300,000 Syrians fleeing in under 10 days. Anticipating yet another wave of displacement, UN workers expanded refugee camps in Iraq and elsewhere, yet again.
Few understand that this “Kurdish” area was historically Christian. It was chosen by the League of Nations for establishing 35 Christian villages following massacres of Assyrian Christians in the last century—first by Turkey, then Iraq, and then the Kurds. Those villages, struggling to rebuild after ISIS occupation in 2015, in October lay emptied again. They too are unlikely to revive without international protection. The Syriac Strategic Research Center reports 156 Christian families displaced from other border towns as well.
Trump’s move to green-light a Turkish invasion of Syria, and to then second it with a cease-fire agreement further forcing Syrians from their homes, deals a death blow to collective security. Such arrangements have protected the vulnerable and served U.S. interests abroad.
To summarize where we are: In the aftermath of World War II the victorious Western Allies came together to create abiding, cooperative institutions as a bulwark against the deadly extremisms of their day and the atrocities they had wrought.
The treaty creating NATO was a mutual defense pact that also governed the partners’ conduct in war. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written mostly by Lebanese Christian thinker and diplomat Charles Malik, gave focus to the otherwise abstract role of the UN. It made liberty of conscience and individual rights no longer a “Western” idea, but a deeply embedded human (and God-given) one.
Like America’s founders, the architects of this global order were not working under illusions about man’s perfectibility. They understood it was precisely because of human sinfulness that such accords and institutions were needed to uphold a law man alone could not keep.
NATO endured from Communism to Islamism. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty has been invoked only once in NATO’s 70-year history—on Sept. 12, 2001, less than 24 hours after attacks on the United States. That action led to joint military assaults on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and saw NATO forces engage outside the Euro-Atlantic theater for the first time. That early action undoubtedly spared the United States and its allies from further large-scale terrorist attacks.
But under the last three U.S. presidencies, the global alliance has faltered. The NATO-led campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq under President George W. Bush disintegrated into costly “endless” wars where nation-building fed corruption and new forms of terrorism. Under President Barack Obama, with fierce support from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a NATO-led no-fly zone in Libya turned into an atrocious war that demolished Libya while exporting terror and weapons.
Then came Syria. The Obama administration made and broke promises before Trump, who ended U.S. opposition to the Assad regime while prioritizing the defeat of ISIS. Syria has brought an end to a functioning NATO.
The only ones in this theater the United States hasn’t broken faith with is ISIS, but the only question now is whether ISIS will remain defeated while new forces contend for dominance.