Fox News in Disarray as Hosts Struggle to Digest Trump’s Betrayal of the Syrian Kurds

Donald Trump’s betrayal of the Syrian Kurds prompted a rare outburst of dissent on the president’s favorite television network.

A military band performs ahead of a ceremony at al-Omar Oil Field marking the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) capture of Baghouz, Syria, after months of fighting to oust Islamic State militants Saturday, March 23, 2019.  The elimination of the last Islamic State stronghold in Baghouz brings to a close a grueling final battle that stretched across several weeks and saw thousands of people flee the territory and surrender in desperation, and hundreds killed. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
A military band performed at a ceremony at al-Omar Oil Field after it was seized from Islamic State militants by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in Baghouz, Syria, in March. Photo: Maya Alleruzzo/AP

Donald Trump’s late-night decision to abandon the Syrian Kurds who helped the United States destroy the Islamic State caliphate in Syria prompted a rare outburst of dissent on Monday on the president’s favorite television program, “Fox and Friends.”

The news of Trump’s complete reversal of his pledge in June to defend the Kurds from a threatened Turkish invasion of their enclave in northern Syria outraged one of the president’s most die-hard boosters, Fox host Brian Kilmeade.

“What a disaster, I mean, the president’s statement through Stephanie Grisham is, you know, ‘We defeated the caliphate, the caliphate’s destroyed.’ We would not have done that without the Kurds, who did all of our fighting,” Kilmeade said to his stunned co-hosts on the morning show. “Now we’re saying, ‘OK Turks, go wipe them out or force them out.’ What kind of message is that to the next ally that wants to side with us?” he asked.

When another of the show’s hosts, Steve Doocy, tried to defend Trump, saying, “I think the president is doing exactly what he wants to, because he has made from the get-go very clear, campaign promises —” Kilmeade interrupted to ask sarcastically, “To release ISIS fighters?”

Later in the morning, the show’s hosts looked deeply uncomfortable as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, another regular Trump supporter, lambasted Trump’s decision as “impulsive.”

“I hope I’m making myself clear how shortsighted and irresponsible this decision is in my view,” Graham added. “This to me is just unnerving to its core. To say to the American people ISIS has been destroyed is not true.”

Doocy once again tried, without much force, to argue Trump’s corner, telling Graham, “Senator, there are a lot of military families who would like to see our personnel come home.”

Later Monday morning, the hosts of “America’s Newsroom,” Bill Hemmer and Sandra Smith, looked taken aback when Fox Middle East correspondent Trey Yingst offered a clear and unstinting description of Trump’s about-face as a broken promise.

“Bill, the Kurds had an agreement with the Americans: help the West battle ISIS in exchange for protection of their people. This was a promise made by President Trump, and a promise that today, according to the White House, will not be kept.” Yingst reported live from Jerusalem.

“Overnight the administration did confirm, following a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, that Turkey will soon attack Kurdish forces in Syria,” Yingst continued. “President Trump has signed off on the withdrawal of U.S. forces in the area that were meant to prevent such an attack.”

“So what does this mean?” Yingst said at the end of his report. “This means that Turkey plans to annex parts of a sovereign country, Syria, with the support of President Trump.” When the camera cut from Yingst in Jerusalem to the studio in New York, Hemmer and Smith looked somewhat befuddled about how to process these facts.

In a further indication that Fox’s dedicated pro-Trump opinion hosts might have their work cut out for them if they try to cast the president’s move in a positive light, “America’s Newsroom” also aired commentary from a retired general, Jack Keane, who railed against Trump’s decision to cut the Kurds loose.

“There’s one word that describes this for me, betrayal,” Keane said. “I think it’s a strategic blunder that will have significant implications.”

“We went into eastern Syria to defeat ISIS,” Keane added. “The Syrian Democratic Forces, which the Kurds were a part of, had 60,000 ground troops. We provided 2,000 to help them. It took us two years. We fought every single day to defeat ISIS. The Syrian Kurds, who we’re talking about here, lost over 11,000 in that fight. … How can we possibly walk away from them?”

That sentiment was echoed on the Fox News website in an op-ed by Judith Miller, the disgraced former New York Times reporter, who noted that Trump’s decision, “delighted President Erdogan, who considers Kurdish forces in Syria as ‘terrorists’ and seeks to create a ‘safe zone’ inside this predominantly Kurdish area where it can resettle many of the estimated 3.5 million Syrian and other Sunni Muslim refugees who fled the Syrian civil war, many of whom now live in Turkey.”

“America’s move undoubtedly now leaves the Kurds, who fear being outnumbered in what has been their traditional demographic stronghold, utterly at Turkey’s mercy,” Miller told readers of the Fox News website.

Another Fox News show, “Outnumbered,” featured commentary from Lisa Kennedy Montgomery, a usually reliable pro-Trump voice, condemning the president’s treatment of the Kurds. “We’re completely abandoning them to die. I mean, they could absolutely be slaughtered, and this is unconscionable,” she said. “This is so unacceptable.

Later on Monday, Fox turned to the president’s main booster — himself — who tried to justify his decision to allow the Turks to attack the Kurds, offering the bizarre rationale that the two nationalities are “natural enemies.”

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