All good things come to an end; therefore, it was expected that the US support to Kurds and regional stability would come to an end–sooner or later. But before taking up the human rights line and saying “but they were the friends of the United States, fought side-by-side,”etc, one should also consider the political realities and historic precedents.
Kurds are a people without a country, and that goes back to “secret deals” made back in 1916 between French and British diplomats, a deal that has proved a time bomb for modern times. The US troop withdrawal announcement from northeast Syria should come as no surprise, as the longer the cooperation lasted, the greater the threat—real or perceived—was to Turkey.
Trump also understands that and did not want to get bogged down in another quagmire – as has been the case in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are more important fish to fry, and now is the time to make good on his campaign promises, to get out and let those on the ground, those living in the neighborhood sort out the mess.
Turks don’t tolerate separatists
Turkey has long considered the Kurdish minority in Syria as a source of terrorism, and that has been the case, not only for Kurdish in Syria but also for Kurds in other countries, especially those living in Turkey itself—and the international diaspora. It is a moot issue as whose terrorist is friend with whom–and which superpower.
While, Kurdish-led forces have until now been a key US ally in Syria, where they helped defeat the Islamic State. But Turkey still regards them as terrorists. It goes back to an operational definition of terrorism; “my freedom fighter is your terrorist”.
Turkey can now use the Kurds to cover its own political and military missteps, including supporting some of the Islamic terrorists in Syria in the first place, directly or indirectly. But political realities change, and that is one thing that is certain in this part of the world.
Timing is everything … and this is the key element to consider when looking at Trump’s recent announcement that US troops, those fighting alongside Kurds would be withdrawn. This is keeping with known US policy. US President Donald Trump defended the withdrawal, saying it was time “to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars”.
Those in Washington, including US Senators want to represent the pullout represents a significant shift in US foreign policy and how it goes against the advice of senior officials in the Pentagon and the US State Department. It is not so simple, as Trump has more “operational intelligence” than senators and the ego driven CNN commentators. The White House recently told that US troops were stepping aside for an imminent Turkish operation, and it was not a matter of choice but because the Turks were ready to go in, with or without the Americans in the free fire zone.
However, what is highly suspect is Turkey’s choice of words and veiled threats — and they could use some coaching in PR. In response Trump claims that he would crash the Turkish economy, if the Turks would indiscriminately attack US-allied Kurdish fighters and civilian populations. One should review America’s own track record of collateral damage and so called “friendly fire.”
As I [Trump] have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider off-limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!). They must, with Europe and others, watch over…
At first impression, Turkey is taking a BIG risk here, especially if it takes Trump’s threats at face value. It does not but it is still taking a gamble if it goes beyond claims of wanting to eliminate the threat of Kurds along its border and proceeds deeper into Syrian territory.
However, the action on the part of the Turkish leadership likely has more to do with domestic policy and catering to Erdogan’s political realities, positioning with the EU over refugees and why should Turkey bear the lion’s share of the burden than those who created it should be more financially responsible. It is true, he is using the same Syrian-Arab militiamen, also labeled as terrorists that the Kurds and Americans had been fighting to take towns held by Kurds.
But we should not forget that many of them were American allies before, “Free Syrian Army” sponsored by American and NATO friends to fight the so called Assad régime. It even gets more complicated than that!
Trump in his “infinite wisdom” may actually be baiting the Turkish prime minister into a political killing zone , whereby he will have to negotiate over how to solve the security problem with the actual stakeholders, find a place to return all the Syrian refugees from Turkey and normalize relations with the neighboring countries.
Regardless, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is almost certain that the US or Europe will not directly interfere, despite its rhetoric otherwise. The EU has called on Turkey to stop its operation. But it also is aware of the fact that Erdogan actually can flood Europe with millions of refugees. And it’s no secret that Europe is already suffering from the refugee-deluge from Syria.
Such a move on his part would foretell political and economic suicide for many countries and governing political parties. He has warned the European Union that Ankara will facilitate millions of refugees to make their way toward Europe if the bloc keeps criticizing Turkey’s military operation in northeast Syria.
“Hey EU, pull yourself together. I say it again: if you try to frame our operation there as an invasion, our task is simple: we will open the gates and send 3.6 million migrants to you,”
During a meeting with provincial heads of his ruling Justice and Development (AK) party Erdogan clearly stated that he has no intentions of accepting any outside criticism. The many refugees are the result of an eight-year conflict in Syria, which both Turkey and the EU share a large share of the responsibility, and even have been instigators.
Turkey’s biggest mistake was to try to help out Washington too much and should have looked after its own needs first. It should not come as a surprise to all the distractors that the Kremlin has openly stated that it is well aware of Turkey’s security concerns.
The Kremlin said, “it is concerned by the situation in Syria’s northeast,” adding, however, that “Moscow sympathizes with Ankara’s security concerns in the area.”Speaking to reporters in Moscow, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said it was important that Syria’s territorial integrity be respected and that the operation did no harm to political attempts to settle Syria’s eight-year civil war, as reported by Reuters and Iranian Press
It will be interesting to see what comes out of Erdogan’s upcoming visit to Washington – and perhaps this will have more to do with his preferred choice of arms suppliers than anything else.
Trump in his infinite wisdom, may simply realize that it’s best to arm them all and “let-them-sort-it-out-in-hell. A living hell, if not already the case, is potentially what the region may be totally transformed into. But one thing is clear, both the US and Russia are sided with Turkey in this effort, even coordinating with one another:as the headline reads, Turkish Operation Coordinated with US and Russia, as reported by Veterans Today and Southfront.
New Great Game
However, it is not so simple, especially in light of events Ukraine, increased arms sales to Saudi Arabia, including providing troops and support staff on the ground, all paid for by the Kingdom. Any effort or movement of people in the region can upset the delicate balance of rhetoric, power and terror.
But this is not going over well with both Republicans and Democrats unified in their criticism. They see Trump’s decision as a betrayal of the Kurds and un-American. Trump insists that the Turks and Kurds have been fighting each other forever and he just wants to pull the US out of harm’s way—endless wars.
The regional “New Great Game” is further complicated with Iraq and Iran, and not to mention the “lynch mob” mentality to get Trump back in the United State, and with no holds barred. Each and every action is like Newton’s third law of physics, and therefore has an equal reaction, and this is also in terms of competing systems and personalities.
Play by whose rules
Trump does claim that he will come down hard on the Turks if they don’t show restraint, “play by the rules.”But who is to decide what those rules are?After all even Trump is infamous of not playing by rules, lacking consistency in his programmes and policies, and having people in the White House who are happy to leak information at the drop of a hat.
He has also distanced himself from the Kurds, claiming that they did not help the United States in WW2. Therefore, it is debatable what that statement actually means other than a flimsy excuse for his abrupt change in the policy that is for public consumption.
Trump says that it is time to go home. It would be too simple to justify all these actions as by happenstance, as a perfect storm is brewing. What is closer to reality is that there is some sort of Machiavelli ploy, not only to disengage the US from the region but to drag Turkey into anpolitical dialogue, one that will require more than just a war of words. The geopolitics of this action raises as many questions as it answers, and is still unfolding.
For Turkey the US was expedient, using one terrorist organization against another. The Turkish audiences see the situation as now the Turks have a free hand to finish the job, something they have long been waiting for—in defeating their definition of terrorism, and not to draw a fine line between a dead ISIS terrorist and a Kurdish one.
Running out of fighting allies
But it should be remembered that the United States has a history of abandoning fighting allies, as it did in Vietnam, especially with the Montagnard fighters who fought and died alongside US Special Forces.
Betrayal of Montagnard by the United States is well-documented, however, few who are not of the Vietnam-generation know of what happened. Their plight should be a lesson for other nationalities, now and into the future, before they seek short term advantage and a supply of weapons by getting “too cozy”with US forces.This is especially true if such co-operation means taking up arms and carrying out terrorist acts, at least in the eyes of a fellow NATO member. The US knows where to draw the line with short term “expedient co-operation,” and long term regionalmaneuverings. Turkey and Syriais not a special case.Turks are neededmore by the United States—and the same cannot be said of the Kurds. They have served their purpose well with honor and understand that this day would come. American history, albeit short has many instances of partners of convenience.
Trump told Erdogan that a “moderate incursion, such as clearing out a safe zone in Syria would be accepted.”
“They were good fighters, fearless… We betrayed them.” – Joe Rimar, former US Army Special forces
I am sure that a similar quote will come out soon in wake of the abandonment to their fate the Kurds by the current generation of US Special Forces now withdrawing from Syria. After the Vietnam War, the ethnic and religious minority Montagnard, or “mountain people,” long at odds with the Vietnamese government, also paid a high price.
But who is talking about them now? Many were killed, some were imprisoned, others fled into jungles or suffered years of ethnic discrimination and religious repression, human rights groups claim.Mostly their culture and traditional means of survival were destroyed.So what in the bigger geopolitical game.
Allies of Convenience
What has happened in Syria is nothing new. Kurds have been betrayed by the US throughout history. They served as allies of convenience. Bush Senior betrayed the Kurds. Bush Junior betrayed the Kurds, and now Trump is betraying the Kurds as well. Nobody’s friend is everybody’s enemy. Just ask the US trained Chechens in Georgia how they were used as a tool of US foreign policy at one time, and even in Syria.
Kurds are getting off easy by some accounts;at least they have been lightly armed by the US. Trump is “letting others take care of the situation now.” Even Syria is welcoming them back into open arms if they give up their demands for a separate state.
By removing US troops from Northern Syria, he has given Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the green light to go-ahead with his long-planned anti-terrorism action against the Kurds.
The problem now is that Turkey must neutralize the same fighters who makeup the spearhead of the Turkish incursion, as they were part of the so called Syrian Defense Forces, Syrian Free Army,Arabs, who have been fighting the Central government in Damascus. And we know who they are; who paid for them — and that sordid history hat is not a well kept secret.
The question is “whether the Turks will stop with a buffer zone or try to occupy more territory as part of this operation? It may even try, if things don’t go well on the ground, to get NATO somehow involved in finishing the job. But likely Russia and Syria will pitch in and be an integral part of a lasting solution.
After all, this is an anti-terrorist operation and not a land grab!
The same job as was initiated, starting with operations against Assad with the help of covert actions: “proxy terrorists,”and “false flags”, which have still failed to accomplish the intended mission.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.