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Some of President Donald Trump's erratic, impulsive and ill-informed pronouncements turn out to be of little lasting consequence, like passing gusts of wind. But his abrupt decision to pull back U.S. troops serving in northern Syria was the policy equivalent of pouring gasoline on smoldering embers.
In just 10 days, it has already produced virtually all of the tragic and dire consequences that critics predicted:
►By yielding to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's invasion threats on Oct. 6 and withdrawing U.S. troops from the Syrian border, Trump surrendered a powerful U.S. self-defense leverage — the ability to call in devastating air power if even a few Americans on the ground were threatened. For Erdogan, this was a green light to move into northern Syria.
►The American president followed up by ordering a near total retreat of U.S. forces from Syria, about 1,000 troops. He abandoned — many would say betrayed — Syrian-Kurdish allies who had fought and died alongside Americans in a successful, years-long campaign to destroy the Islamic State caliphate.
Escaping ISIS prisoners
►The resulting chaos threatens to reverse victory against an ISIS network that inspired mass shootings in Orlando and San Bernardino, and launched attacks in Europe. Hundreds of ISIS prisoners have escaped detention camps, and thousands more operate in Syrian-based sleeper cells the U.S.-led coalition had worked to suppress.
►A humanitarian crisis is unfolding. More than 100,000 civilians have been displaced by the Turkish invasion. Hospitals are shuttering. Water is running short. And Turkish irregular forces manned by jihadi extremists are engaging in such atrocities as summary executions of Kurdish prisoners.
SEN. RAND PAUL: President Trump moves to stop 'endless wars.' I stand with him.
►The abandoned Kurds have turned for protection to Syrian President Bashar Assad — a brutal dictator whose removal from office has been a goal of U.S. foreign policy. Assad now can reestablish control over areas of Syria that Kurdish-led forces, with America's help, had carved out as free, self-governing zones.
►Assad's chief sponsor, Russia, will enjoy expanded influence in the Middle East. Russian troops are already patrolling areas evacuated by the United States.
►Iran, Syria's other leading patron and a key U.S. foe, also wins. The Trump administration's goal has been to constrain Tehran's aggressive foreign policy. But the vacuum created by Trump's withdrawal could allow overland supply routes for Iranian militia in Syria and Tehran-supported Hezbollah fighters threatening Israel.
Trump: Actions 'strategically brilliant'
On Wednesday, Trump defended his actions in Syria as "strategically brilliant." He said he was acting to end America's endless wars.
Actually, the opposite might come to pass. After lengthy and costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon had finally developed a cutting-edge strategy in Syria that employed small numbers of U.S. special forces in close coordination with Syrian-Kurdish and Arab allies to defeat a common enemy — ISIS in this instance. In the process, the United States suffered very few casualties.
That strategy, however, depends first and foremost on trust, that allies fighting on the ground know that America has their backs.
Trump has stripped that trust away in a matter of days. The next time America's homeland is threatened, the United States might have to do its own fighting with tens of thousands of its young men and women deployed overseas to war.
Even some of Trump's normally sycophantic Republican allies in Congress have condemned his move, and on Wednesday the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution opposing the president's decision to end U.S. operations, calling on Erdogan to stop military action, and expressing continuing support for the Kurds.
Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been dispatched to Turkey to try to tamp down the flames sparked by Trump's ineptitude. All the fire extinguishers in the world might not be enough to do that.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump pours gas on Syria. Turkey-Kurds-Russia fire may burn US.