Yet again, President Donald Trump must have felt he had somehow painted himself into a corner of his Oval Office. This time, Trump trapped himself by creating new impeachable offenses that seem far worse than anything Robert Mueller probed. Such as publicly pressuring foreign countries to dig up dirt on a political opponent.
But then, as the oval walls were closing in, Trump saw what seemed like an escape route – and so he took it. And so our column opens with a new specter: Trump is riding down a virtual version of his famous personal gold-glittering escalator; it’s just like the one he rode to start his 2016 presidential campaign.
We see Trump forcing a smile, waving, talking and tweeting at all hours, as his virtual gold escalator carries him down, down, down. Down toward his increasingly inevitable impeachment.
The reason he’s feeling so trapped is that he really is trapped – and everything he has tried has only made his problems worse. First he denied pressuring Ukraine’s president to dig up dirt he can use against Joe Biden. But then the world saw his actual words, so Trump switched to explain why it wasn’t a crime (never mind that the experts all say it is). Then he doubled down, publicly asking China to do what he’s gotten Ukraine to do.
Trump has now discovered the real problem with being trapped on a virtual down escalator – there is no up escalator. So Trump realized he was in an ever-worsening mess. Then his cellphone rang. Turkey’s strongman and Trump’s old pal, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was calling. Erdogan was at the 2012 dedication of Istanbul’s two Trump Towers; Trump has extensive investments in Turkey. Now Erdogan was again pressing Trump to withdraw (or at least relocate) all U.S. military forces in Syria – so Turkey can invade and wipe out the Kurdish militia that was the Obama administration’s surrogate ground force in the war that drove ISIS from Syria. The Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (known by the acronym, YPG) suffered many thousands killed in driving ISIS from Syria.
But Erdogan wanted Trump to desert America’s ally so Turkey could slaughter thousands more Kurds, if necessary, to set up a Kurd-free buffer zone along the Syrian side of the border.
But Trump probably wasn’t thinking “desertion” – just “diversion,” and he liked that. Trump saw a chance to divert attention from impeachment by spotlighting that Trump was fulfilling a campaign pledge to reduce America’s role as the world’s policemen. Trump expected Republican isolationists’ cheers – plus even the antiwar liberals who’ve been urging just that ever since the Vietnam War.
So when Erdogan pressed on the phone, Trump just gave an un-thinking yes. He didn’t consult his government experts; they’d just say “No!” and maybe resign like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis did when Trump last tried to do it in December. It didn’t occur to trump that his experts would also say he was just helping Russia and Iran gain leverage in the region. (Or Trump just didn’t care.)
Trump, forever his own Monty Python-like parody of himself, actually tweeted: “if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).”
Then of course, Turkey invaded and a stunned world watched in disbelief as America’s 45th president suddenly shattered that reality of global trust that has been America’s truest bond no matter who was president, ever since the darkest early days of World War II.
But Trump was stunned by the harsh reaction from his loyal Republican claque that had just sucked up and accepted all his other outrageous acts.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said: “A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup.”
And Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called Trump’s desertion of the Kurds “a disaster in the making,” tweeting: “Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump administration. This move assures the reemergence of ISIS.”
McConnell and Graham, being smart men, surely cannot like the way they have been selling out their country to please Trump. This week, they proved they actually do know better than they’d been performing.
There is only one way this can and must end. It is with McConnell and Graham coming up with their own version of that 1974 moment when Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott led a delegation of famous Republican senators to the White House and told Richard Nixon he had lost their support. And it was time to leave.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.