After a controversial partial withdrawal of American troops from northern Syria, President Donald Trump has directed $50 million to support religious minorities in the war-torn country.
What has been deemed a fulfillment of the long-promised “withdrawal from Syria,” according to a senior Trump administration official, actually resulted in about 50 American troops shuffling from the northern Syrian border into other Syrian regions. This shifting of personnel, which reportedly occurred abruptly after a telephone call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, opened the way for a Turkish military incursion against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), America’s central ally in the war against ISIS.
Trump has been the subject of significant criticism since announcing this alteration in foreign policy. American Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) has called it “unnerving to its core” and a “stain on America’s honor.”
Gen. Mazloum Kobane Abdi, commander-in-chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces, has called the withdrawal “immoral” and stated that America is leaving their Syrian allies “to be slaughtered.” Kobane is critical of the USA’s now partial military occupation of Syria, demanding that the USA withdraw further to make room for Russia and the Syrian government to enforce a no-fly-zone in the region which is now being bombed by Turkey.
“This week I directed $50 million dollars to support Christians and other religious minorities in Syria.” stated President Trump. “I did it on Friday. Fifty million dollars.” Trump followed up by stating that the American foreign aid to Syria is offered in honor of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a former missionary who was imprisoned in Turkey, among others.
Trump went on to state that “the U.S. condemns the persecution of Christians and we pledge our support to Christians all over.” Without context or citation, Trump also insisted that Obama-era immigration policies applied to Syria favored Muslim emigrants over Christians, indicating that the designated foreign aid payments may be reparations for United States immigration policy.
Foreign aid to religious minorities in Syria is an interesting strategy to control the mass condemnation of one of Trump’s most unpopular decisions. A more effective strategy may be to remind the public that the catastrophic results of withdrawal are an inevitable consequence of the catastrophic results of military occupation. Whether out of a sense of social justice, or to preserve his image, this move on Trump’s part is somewhat out of character. How exactly these foreign aid payments will be used is not yet known.