President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, opening the way for a possible incursion by Turkish forces, is everything his critics say it is: impulsive, unwise and a betrayal of the Syrian Kurds on whom the United States relied in the war against Islamic State. Characteristically, the president is now engaging in damage control.

This fiasco began on Sunday when the White House issued a statement after Trump spoke by phone to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The statement said that Turkey would soon be moving its forces into Syria and that “U.S. forces will no longer be in the immediate area.” Administration officials said 50 to 100 U.S. troops near the border would be redeployed to other parts of Syria.

But in a series of tweets on Monday morning, Trump seemed to suggest that all of the remaining U.S. forces in Syria — about 1,000 — might be removed. After gracelessly claiming that the Kurds “were paid massive amounts of money and equipment” to fight alongside the U.S., Trump thundered that “it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home.”

Amid concerns that Trump had given Erdogan a green light to attack the Kurds in Syria, the president returned to Twitter later on Monday to declare that “if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey.” He also has sought to rebut accusations that he is betraying the Kurds, saying on Tuesday that “in no way have we abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters.”

Even if you sympathize — as this page does — with the desire to keep the U.S. out of quagmires, unwinnable conflicts and “endless wars” that don’t affect vital American interests, the stabilizing role played by U.S. forces in Syria is not an example of intolerable overreach. It’s a markedly more modest and less dangerous commitment than the continued U.S. military mission in Afghanistan and it serves two purposes: protecting the Syrian Kurds from Turkey (which sees them as terrorists aligned with Kurdish insurgents from Turkey) and preventing the resurgence of Islamic State.

There is a danger that U.S. troops might stay too long in Syria and become hostages to regional politics. But decisions on whether and when to withdraw those forces should be made by the president after respectful consultation with experts and allies, the sort of deliberative process Trump disdains. This episode is a reminder that, whether or not Congress concludes that Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” deserving of impeachment, he is operatically incompetent in discharging the duties of the presidency.

Editorial by the Los Angeles Times

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