Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(04 November 2019) — History is replete with the phenomenon of human betrayal. But, unlike any other time in geopolitical history, trust in America’s global leadership has never hit such a dangerously low point. Trust and reliance on Washington, in a downward spiral since January 2017, has now reached its nadir with nowhere lower to go. An act of betrayal in any context is flagitious. Thus, only a naively foolish U.S. partner or ally now relies on Trump administration promises. Caribbean leaders should take heed of this paradigm shift in U.S. geopolitical relationships.
The betrayal of the Kurds in Syria is at best egregious; an act which engenders a geopolitical context wherein lies the potential for loss of tens of thousands of lives, could spark a humanitarian crisis, and puts global order at risk. Apologists for the Trump administration will turn to the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to support president Trump’s actions in Syria. This important act in the fight against terrorism will be conceptualized as justification, and not in spite of, the U.S. president’s withdrawal from Syria, without giving due credit to the cooperation of a betrayed ally predating and continuing beyond the U.S. president’s recent decision.
The operation to kill the ISIS leader, like other counterterrorism offenses of this nature, is the result of weeks, months, or years of painstaking intelligence gathering by the U.S. intelligence community in cooperation with foreign counterparts and analysis coordinated by the U.S. National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC). The options for this operation would have been developed within the NCTC in coordination with appropriate military leaders and presented to the U.S. president. This operation would not have been carried out on a mere whim. In this case, an intelligence break occurred following a recent detention and interrogation by the Kurds of individuals closely related to the ISIS leader.
President Trump having declared victory over ISIS, and, misguidedly believing ISIS was no longer a threat to America’s national security, designated the terrorist group as someone else’s problem. Yet, the U.S. President was quick to take personal credit for the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He thanked Russia and Turkey two countries led by autocrats he often describes as “strong leader” or “great leader” for their cooperation, ahead of acknowledging the cooperation of the Kurds. It was left to Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Commander in Chief, Gen. Mazloum Kobani, to tell the world of the Kurds’ role in finding the ISIS leader. Kobani tweeted there was “joint intel cooperation on the ground and accurate monitoring” for five months working on finding al-Baghdadi. Also, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali touted what he described as a “successful and effective operation by our forces.”
Governments around the world expressed anger in the wake Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds. Allies and enemies alike are confused about the rapid slide in Washington as a trusted ally to its geopolitical partners. While allies and friends must deal with this new reality, U.S. enemies and geopolitical competitors are elated by the chaos in Trump’s foreign policy and withdrawal from global leadership. They seize the opportunity to fill the geopolitical spaces evacuated by Washington. Once considered a reliable partner in maintaining global order, the patterns of Trump administration’s policies now raise serious doubts of U.S. future role in global affairs. There will be implications in decision-making in regional and international organizations, and serious questions will be raised in such fora as the Organization of American States and the United Nations Security Council.
Thoughtful foreign leaders now view U.S. geopolitical and security relations as existing, not for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security – translated to mean global order – but for one purpose, and one purpose only. These relationships exist only to serve president Trump’s personal interests which are not necessarily in sync with the national security interests of the United States, or with the interests of the international community.
Most governments are, or should be troubled but remain silenced by fear of retribution from Washington and few seem to understand the broader implications of Trump administration’s policies. Some governments blindly believe that because they are not immediately impacted by Trump administration’s actions they can ignore current policies. They don’t seem to be aware of future danger or that their turn could come without warning. As we often say in the context of global terrorism threats, no country is immune. And, even when they support, like sycophants, the U.S. president, or quickly fall in line with Trump administration’s policies no matter how anathema they might be to principles traditionally held within the construct of their countries’ foreign policy, they could be dumped or dumped on. Trust once shattered, like Humpty Dumpy, will be difficult to reconstruct.
Global stability requires leadership and relationships built on mutual trust and not merely for the convenience of powerful countries, or for one country over another. Sound relationships and trusted partnerships require years of diplomatic work, building and maintaining security alliances, and global defense of shared values. These are underlined by trust and reliance that your geopolitical and security partners will have your back, not stab you in the back!
Already confused by the chaos and confusion which characterizes Trump administration’s foreign policy, and the obfuscations now seemingly accepted as the norm, betrayal of the Kurds in Syria is not an aberration in Trump administration policy. We have become familiar with the new norm for the U.S. president; for him everything is transactional. It’s about ‘what’ or ‘how much’ you can do for me (Trump) now and in the future; not what you have already done for me. In the case of the Kurds, it’s not about what they have already done for the U.S. and the international community in defeating ISIS on the battlefield. The fact they sacrificed more than 11,000 of their fighters and suffered over 100,000 injured in leading the fight against one of America’s most dangerous enemy and defeating the caliphate has no bearing on president Trump’s decision.
The U.S. president’s transactional relationships and decision-making, including the decision to abandon the Kurds, challenge rationality among the U.S. foreign policy establishment, including among members of the U.S. Congress – Democrats and Republicans alike. The global community is flabbergasted.
Caribbean leaders should be wary, including of the promises made at the infamous Mar-a-Lago meeting between president Trump and the five selected Caribbean leaders. Being called a ‘strong’ or ‘great’ leader by president Trump or members of his administration is not a badge of honour. It’s a term reserved for autocratic leaders admired by the U.S. president or when he perceives such leader as publicly supporting him.
Caribbean leaders should, as many others around the world have, recognize as a matter of record that American diplomats have been marginalized and their words have far less integrity than in prior administrations. The U.S. president has been clear that not even his Secretary of State speaks for him. The words and actions of the U.S. president are all that matters, not only for those directly impacted, but for the entire global community. The Caribbean is not excepted.
(This article was first published in the Jamaica Gleaner platform Viewpoints on 02 November 2019 as “Trump’s Art of Betrayal a Warning to Caribbean Leaders”)
© 2019 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post