The backstage struggle between the Bush interventionists and the America-firsters who first backed Donald Trump for president just exploded into open warfare, which could sunder the Republican Party.

At issue is Trump’s decision to let the Turkish army enter Northern Syria, to create a corridor between Syrian Kurds and the Turkish Kurds of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which the U.S. and Turkey regard as a terrorist organization.

“A disaster in the making,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “To abandon the Kurds” would be a “stain on America’s honor.”

“A catastrophic mistake,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.

“The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against [the Islamic State group] in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake,” said ex-United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called it a “betrayal.”

Trump tweeted this defense of his order to U.S. forces not to resist Turkish intervention: “The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades. ... I held off this fight for ... almost 3 years, but it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home.”

Behind Trump’s decision is his exasperation at our NATO allies’ refusal to take back for trial their own citizens whom we and the Kurds captured while they were fighting for the Islamic State.

What are the arguments interventionists are using to insist that U.S. forces remain in Syria indefinitely? Graham said that if we pull out, the Kurds will be forced, for survival, to ally themselves with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

True, but the Kurds now occupy a fourth of Syria, and this is not sustainable. We have to consider reality. Assad, the Russians, the Iranians and Hezbollah have won the war against the Sunni rebels we and our Arab friends armed and equipped. How long must we stay in Syria to defend the Kurds against the Turks? Forever?

If we depart, IS will come back, said Cheney: “Terrorists thousands of miles away can and will use their safe havens to launch attacks against America.”

But al-Qaida and IS are in many more places today than they were when we intervened in the Middle East. Must we fight forever over there — to be secure over here? Why cannot Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states deal with IS and al-Qaida in their own backyard? Why are IS and al-Qaida over there our problem over here?

“This will throw the region into further chaos,” said Graham. But what, if not wholesale U.S. intervention, created the present chaos?

Consider. Today, the Taliban conduct more attacks and control much more territory than they did in all the years since we first intervened in 2001.

Sixteen years after we marched to Baghdad, protests against the Iraqi regime took hundreds of lives last week, and a spreading revolt threatens the regime.

Saudi Arabia is tied down and arguably losing the war it launched against the Houthi rebels in 2015.

Among those objecting most loudly to an American withdrawal from the forever wars of the Middle East are those who were most enthusiastic about plunging us in.

Yes, there’s a price to be paid for letting go of an empire, but it is almost always less than the price of holding on.


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