President Donald Trump claims that Turkey’s invasion of Syria “has nothing to do with us.” It is all happening 7,000 miles away, he says, so nations in that region should handle all the messy moving parts in a country shredded by civil war.
It may be tempting to embrace the president’s isolationism, and he feels certain that his base of voters will love knowing that American troops have left an obscure foreign conflict zone. However, as we painfully discovered on 9/11, thousands of miles are not enough to protect us from murderous ideologies such as ISIS.
The so-called Islamic State had a blood-soaked winning streak, until a small U.S. military contingent helped Kurdish militias liberate whole provinces that ISIS had brutally governed as its "caliphate.” During the extremists’ heyday, they plotted to attack Western cities and launched online campaigns aimed at inspiring sympathizers to commit mass murder.
ISIS filled the internet with triumphant videos of gun battles, beheadings, brainwashed children and enslaved women. Most of us looked away from the horrors of those websites, but a few unbalanced and angry Westerners reveled in those scenes and yearned to achieve some kind of significance by emulating the Islamist killers.
The toll inflicted by the self-radicalized inspired by the apparent success of ISIS includes 14 Californians killed by a radical Muslim couple in San Bernardino in 2015; 49 people shot to death in a gay bar in Orlando in 2016; eight people murdered by an Uzbek man plowing a truck into them in New York City in 2017; and hundreds of Western civilians killed by trucks, bombs and gunfire in France, Britain, Spain, Russia and other nations far from the Middle East.
One of the greatest accomplishments of the U.S. soldiers — sent in by President Barack Obama and left there by Trump for 33 months — was to deflate the ISIS legend. Shorn of success, driven into hiding, and killed and captured by the thousands, the Islamic State gangs were converted from heroes into losers.
ISIS needed to look like a winner — claiming that by mercilessly wielding the sword and age-old Muslim orthodoxy, it had the momentum to spread its caliphate on a global scale and annihilate Western democracy and freedoms.
Those mirages were shattered by around a thousand U.S. troops who had modern intelligence-gathering capabilities, regularly called in devastating airstrikes, and equipped and trained Kurdish militias so they could hold territory as the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Despite a brief ceasefire trumpeted Thursday by the American president as "a great day for the Kurds," they made it clear that they now hate us and they are forging new alliances with Syria’s government and Russia. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards cannot be far behind. The remnants of ISIS are sure to regroup, fortified by ex-prisoners who had been held by the Kurds but already have escaped their cells.
The ISIS fighters include thousands of Westerners who had made pilgrimages to Syria to join the radical caliphate, and some will slip back into Europe, where they can plot new waves of attacks.
Others in ISIS will re-energize their campaign of inspiration, claiming that pure Islam has chased away the United States. Americans, literally anywhere on Earth, will be targeted for death and destruction.
Trump makes it sound like keeping a foot on the throat of ISIS has nothing to do with us. Has he forgotten that ISIS was and is capable of planning and inspiring attacks, even from 7,000 miles away?
The next time that a danger to America arises from the Middle East — and there will be a next time — the Kurds won’t help us. After Trump’s impulsive and erratic betrayal this month, it’s not clear that anybody will help.
Dan Raviv, senior Washington correspondent of i24News, is co-author of “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.”