Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to the Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. Follow her on Twitter @fridaghitis. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. Read more opinion on CNN.
President Donald Trump stood in front of the microphone in the White House Diplomatic Reception Room and strafed the world with a barrage of lies and nonsensical, self-serving claims. We’ve seen it before, but the spectacle Trump served on Wednesday when he bragged and boasted about his great achievement in Syria was even more grotesque than usual, because he sought to paint what has been a calamity for America’s Kurdish friends – and for US standing in the world – as a great personal triumph.
The “Alice in Wonderland” factor may have been lost on Trump’s most devout followers, probably the intended audience for this spectacle of deceit, but the fact is that much of what Trump said wasn’t just incorrect, it was the exact opposite of the truth – contradicted even by the administration’s own experts in remarks made recently and months earlier.
In announcing that Turkey has agreed to a “permanent” ceasefire and taking credit for the possible end to the carnage he helped spark, Trump claimed, “We have done (Turkey and the Kurds) a great service,” by removing US forces. Trump repeatedly lied about the American mission, which he said has lasted 10 years and was supposed to last 30 days. All of that is false, except for the great service to Turkey, which managed to gain everything it wanted from the US without making any concessions.
Turkey has paid no price. The Kurds have lost the security and self-rule they enjoyed, and America has lost its credibility and influence in the Middle East, a vital region. Observers are openly asking who will trust America after this debacle.
The low-cost, low-risk, high-return US mission had lasted a few years, and it never had a time limit. Turkey had long wanted the small American force to leave, seeking a free hand to remove the Kurds – something the US sought to prevent until Trump’s sudden and chaotic reversal. Trump didn’t just give that to Erdogan, he wrapped it up as a nice gift, with acclaim for the Turkish autocrat and a prized invitation to visit the White House next month.
The President’s version of events was so divorced from reality that, only moments before he praised Erdogan, his own envoy to Syria, Amb. Jim Jeffrey, told Congress that the US has seen evidence of war crimes in a Turkish invasion he called “a tragic disaster.”
Trump lifted all the sanctions the US imposed on Turkey after it launched an invasion of Syrian territory that had been under control of the Kurds with US support – until Trump agreed to remove US forces following a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan two weeks ago. The Turkish assault that followed Trump’s abrupt withdrawal announcement forced hundreds of thousands of Kurds to flee their homes, prompting accusations of ethnic cleansing by Turkey and its allied Arab militias.
Trump lied about the fate of ISIS, saying prisoners who were being guarded by the Kurds, are “under very, very strict lock and key,” adding that a few who escaped had been “largely recaptured.” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper just told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that more than 100 escaped, and Jeffrey told Congress, “We do not know where they are.”
Trump sought to throw sand in the eyes of his audience, pretending the past couple of weeks have been a triumph of US foreign policy. The precise opposite is true. According to the president, “People are saying, “wow, what a great outcome, congratulations.’”
It is, indeed, a great outcome for Vladimir Putin, who now becomes the dominant power broker in the area; for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, whose rule over all the Syrian territory has now become the official plan in a new Turkey-Russia agreement; for Iran, whose Syrian ally now gets to stay in power; for Turkey, who got to crush Syrian Kurds; and for Hezbollah, whose patrons now have the upper hand.
His predecessor’s Syria policy was disastrous, as many of us noted. It took Trump to unravel the one element that worked, and make a worse mess of the situation.
In a moment of phony modesty, Trump said “It’s too early for me to be congratulated,” and proceeded to praise himself. It’s not too early to note, as the Kurds and many others have, that Trump just authored a shameful, disastrous chapter in US foreign policy. No amount of lies and bluster can hide that fact.