On Wednesday, Turkey launched an offensive into northern Syria, claiming it is an assault on Kurdish forces hostile to Turkish interests and security. Many analysts and members of the United States government, a major Kurdish ally, are labeling this offensive as highly detrimental to American security and humanitarian interests, because it jeopardizes the Syrian Democratic Forces’ and others’ ability to guard some 11,000 ISIS prisoners in the region, who now have a greater chance of escaping to Europe and other parts of the Middle East. What is your view on the Turkish military operation in the region? Given the fact that a withdrawal of American troops allowed this invasion to happen, how do you think the United States’ geopolitical security interests will be affected?

Prof. Andreas Teuber (PHIL)

Events have been changing rapidly on the ground, making it difficult, if not impossible, to answer any question about what’s going on in the region. But the BIG STORY now is the turn to Damascus and the Russian-backed Assad regime by Kurdish forces, formerly allied with the U.S., for support in pushing the Turks back across the border into Turkey, realizing — after Trump’s impetuous decision to withdraw US troops — that they can no longer count on the U.S.  As the result of Trump’s unreflective response to a phone call from Erdogan, Kurdish civilians and disarmed Kurdish soldiers are being executed in the streets, ISIS is given release to reconstitute itself, and Assad’s troops, invited by the Kurds because they were abandoned by the U.S., are back in the region again. It’s a sad day for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, if not throughout the world. It’s “a self-inflicted, strategic catastrophe,” as Susan Rice calls it. “It’s Trump’s Saigon.”

Prof. Andreas Teuber (PHIL) is a professor of Philosophy on leave this semester at Princeton. He will teach ‘PHIL 110: Meaning in Life and Why It Matters’ and ‘PHIL 125: Philosophy of Law’ in the spring.

Lan Ngo

Turkey's recent offensive campaign in northern Syria could be highly detrimental to U.S. geopolitical interests in the long term but not because it would strengthen ISIS. The move hurts U.S. interests mainly because it could seriously damage U.S. credibility. First, President Trump's decision to abandon his Kurdish allies shows that the U.S. readily abandons its allies when it is in U.S. interest to do so. Second, if Trump himself later regrets this move and reverses his decision, that would send confusing signals to the capitals of allies and rivals alike. It is likely that Trump's withdrawal will make it increasingly hard to reassure other U.S. allies in difficult times. Similarly, the U.S. would have a much harder time bargaining with and deterring rivals like Russia and China in a future crisis when its words are not perceived as credible.

Lan Ngo is a Ph.D. candidate in the International Relations department at Brandeis.

Nathanial Walker

My concerns on the present situation in Syria aren’t actually centered on the current specifics of the conflict. What troubles me about U.S. foreign relations is the lack of 1) generalizable outlines for decision-making, as well as 2) a lack of moral guidance in doctrine. Strategically, pulling out of northern Syria now makes very little sense. While we only had around 50 soldiers stationed there, the “tripwire” they provided in case of a change in the situation provided an important diplomatic and strategic tool for our mission in Syria. Pulling out of this dual military-diplomatic situation effectively betrays our Kurdish allies as Erdoğan can more or less act with impunity against our key allies in the conflict. I am of course bothered by this quick reversal of strategy, but I am especially bothered that a quick phone call between President Trump and Erdoğan can instigate this reversal. Knowing any President’s goals and actions in the moment is extremely difficult, but what is clear is that any Trump foreign policy “doctrine” lacks the type of decision-making that would produce good outcomes for the United States, and for the world.

Nathanial Walker is a Ph.D. candidate in the Politics department at Brandeis.

Prof. Michael Strand (SOC)

Trump got rolled. Fateful Sunday afternoon call with Erdogan, a lion encounters a mouse, now the end of many things. Two weeks ago, the Pentagon served in the role of prophet: One event would destabilize the region, make ISIS a credible threat again, empower supposed Trump enemy Iran: that event was exactly what has unfolded in the last week. The many entanglements are not even clear, what they could untangle and then re-entangle. Such are the nature of restless events, and this will be one: irreversible. Trump’s god-emperor remarks afterward (“In my great and unmatched wisdom…”) resound with biblical passages spoken two thousand years ago by the likes of Herod and his infamous ilk. And like Herod it becomes difficult to see how Trump the Unwise has not now set in motion another massacre of innocents is but further confirmation of what brand “America” really stands for in the region. 

Michael Strand is an assistant professor of Sociology specializing in social theory, the philosophy of social science and economic sociology.