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Trump Followed His Gut on Syria. Calamity Came Fast.

“My gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me,” he said late last year. He was discussing the Federal Reserve, but could just as easily have been talking foreign policy; in 2017 he told a reporter, right after his first meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, that it was his “gut feel” for how to deal with foreign leaders, honed over years in the real estate world, that guided him. “Foreign policy is what I’ll be remembered for,” he said.

But in this case the failure to look around corners has blown up on him at a speed that is rare in foreign policy and national security. The closest analogue may date to 1950, during Harry Truman’s administration, when Secretary of State Dean Acheson described America’s new “defense perimeter” in a speech, saying it ran from southern Japan through the Philippines. That left out the Korean Peninsula, and two weeks later Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader, appeared to have given Kim Il-sung, grandfather of the current North Korean leader, permission to launch his invasion of the South. The bloody stalemate that followed lives with the United States today.

At the time, the United States kept a token force in South Korea, akin to the one parked along the Turkish-Syrian border. And it is impossible to know whether the North Korean attack would have been launched even without Mr. Acheson’s failure to warn about American action if a vulnerable ally was attacked — just as it is impossible to know if Mr. Erdogan would have sent his troops over the border if that phone call, and Mr. Trump’s failure to object, had never happened.

It was Mr. Trump himself who, during a presidential debate with Hillary Clinton in 2016, blamed President Barack Obama for a similar error. “President Obama and Secretary Clinton created a vacuum the way they got out of Iraq,” he said, referring to the 2011 withdrawal. “They shouldn’t have been in, but once they got in, the way they got out was a disaster. And ISIS was formed.”

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/14/world/middleeast/trump-turkey-syria.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

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