‘Mr. Kurd’ says Trump has abandoned U.S. allies in Middle East

WASHINGTON — Mr. Kurd feels betrayed.

A year ago, Kurdish journalist Rahim Rashidi stood up at a news conference and listened to President Donald Trump praise his people. Trump professed respect for the “great” U.S. allies, even inadvertently giving Rashidi the nickname “Mr. Kurd” as he called on him to ask a question. Trump vowed to protect them.

“They fought with us. They died with us,” Trump said in a hotel ballroom in New York City, crowded with reporters. “We have not forgotten.”

None of that panned out.

Trump this week pulled back U.S. troops from northeast Syria, essentially abandoning the Kurdish fighters who have been America’s only allies in Syria fighting the Islamic State group.

The move paved the way for Turkey to attack the Kurdish forces it considers terrorists. On Wednesday, Ankara launched airstrikes and fired artillery into Syria, causing casualties.

The attack happened “in front of his eyes,” Rashidi said of Trump. “He did nothing.”

For much of Washington, the news conference in September 2018 was just another strange episode of the Trump presidency — an awkward moment of cultural clumsiness for a president prone to them. But for Rashidi and other Kurds, it was an unforgettable pledge of protection and assurance.

Rashidi, who is based in Washington, didn’t bristle at being called “Mr. Kurd” — he embraced it. He even put it on his business card.

“If you remember, I was very happy,” Rashidi said, describing Trump as the most powerful man in the world.

He doesn’t know what changed in the intervening months. Republicans and Democrats in Congress, along with many national defence experts, say the move has placed U.S. credibility as well as the Kurds and regional stability at great risk.

On Wednesday, Trump said in a tweet that the United States should not be “fighting and policing” in the Middle East.

But his stance caused whiplash for those who had found hope in Trump’s earlier words.

“Yes, please, Mr. Kurd. Go ahead,” Trump said at the news conference last year, prompting some head-scratching from those who puzzled over why the president would refer to a reporter that way.

Rashidi asked about the United States’ relationship with the Kurds after the defeat of the Islamic State group. Trump was effusive.

“We’re trying to help them a lot,” Trump said. He even offered some unprompted reassurance: “We don’t forget. I don’t forget,” Trump said. “I can tell you that I don’t forget.”

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