Outrage met Donald Trump’s supposedly rash decision to pull back U.S. troops from possible confrontational zones between our Kurdish friends in Syria and Recep Erdogan’s expeditionary forces.
Turkey claims that it will punish the Syrian Kurds for a variety of supposed provocations, including aiding and abetting Kurdish terrorist separatists inside Turkey. But what they say they can so easily do and what they really can do inside Syria are, of course, two different things.
A Noble People
Most Americans in general favor the Kurds and oppose the Turks. Aside from Israel, Kurds are about the only American allies in the Middle East who predictably fight alongside our troops against Islamists, theocrats, and Baathists. They admire Americans, and for the most part they do not indulge in the normal anti-American histrionics. They despise ISIS as much we do and are on the front lines combatting ISIS atrocities.
Skeptics might suggest that they do so mostly for self-interested reasons. But all people do that. And what is unusual about the Kurds of Iraq and Syria is the number of times they have risked their lives in battle alongside our own soldiers. For that alone, they deserve special American dispensations and should not be left to the vagaries of Turkish or Russian air power or any combined Turkish, Syrian, Islamist, or Iranian cynical alliance.
Like the Poles, the Armenians, the Greeks, and the Israelis, the Kurds are an honorable, ancient, and brave people who drew history’s unfortunate lot of living in a dangerous geography between much larger and aggressive nations. And, to be frank, all these endangered peoples at some point in their histories, ancient and modern or both, seem to have fought against Turkish forces, been targeted by them, or threatened by Ankara.
So, yes, it is incumbent on the Trump administration in general and on Secretary Pompeo in particular to find ways to prevent mass Turkish attacks on the Kurds, while not inserting American ground troops into a cauldron of fire between Turks and Kurds. That effort will require a great deal of skill and deftness that are weirdly forgotten in the current bipartisan exclamations of “We sold out the Kurds!” — given the labyrinth of paradoxes that surround Turkey, Syria, Kurds, and the U.S. and the lack of information about the actual redeployment of American troops.
No doubt depressed Americans at this point would in theory gladly substitute weaker but more loyal Kurds for stronger and more strategically important but fickle Turks as de facto American allies. Turkey, remember, is also holding the foreign policy of the European Union hostage, as it threatens to open the floodgates of Middle East and African refugees inside Turkey into Europe should the EU lecture Turkey too much or cut off its blackmail money. And for that matter, Ankara in theory can also hold 50 or so American nukes likely based on Turkish soil as well.
Turkey, our Frenemy
More ironies abound. Many of the critics demanding that we restrain our NATO ally Turkey are precisely the same who have damned Trump for undermining the NATO alliance by loudly reprimanding allies for not keeping their promises of military contributions. Yet an American presence in between the Kurdish and Turkish trajectories may not necessarily serve as a successful deterrent to violence given our present limited deployment. If all Trump has done for now is to remove a few dozen Americans from a “trip wire” deployment between the two belligerents, he can hardly have “sold out” the Kurds.
Otherwise, our presence in the firing line could raise the specter that we’d either refuse our Article V (collective defense) commitments to Turkey that Erdogan might cynically invoke in a larger war in Syria, or we’d find ourselves actually killing Turks to save Kurds. Either of these scenarios is theoretically quite possible, and both would be far more injurious to the spirit and cohesion of the presently composed NATO alliance than asking Germany and its followers to pony up the contributions that they had long promised.
As I understand the present outrage, the logic goes like this: It is a sellout to leave the Kurds vulnerable to the Turks, and it undermines our noble promises and our credibility in a way that ignoring our ignoble, legal commitments to Turkey do not. That may be a legitimate assumption that we all would like to embrace, but it is not yet the policy of the United States.
Also, there are Kurds — and then there are Kurds. Given the century of broken promises about the birthing of a Kurdish super state of some 30 million, the Kurds now compose minority populations in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, among other smaller countries. The agendas of these disparate groups, again in lieu of an independent Kurdistan, are not uniform; they range from advocacy of free markets and consensual government to authoritarian Communism and Islamism.
These sometime disparate factions, to varying degrees, can employ both honorable methods of resistance and occasional abject terrorism against both our Turkish allies and our Iranian enemies. In other words, as minorities that form less than 25 percent of the population of their four host nations, 30 million Kurds are diverse groups that do what they think they must to survive. Their survival strategies do not always assure compliance with U.S. anti-terrorist protocols. Our allied Syrian Kurds of the YPG in Syria, for instance, are also affiliated with the Kurdish PKK inside Turkey — a group that has often committed terrorist attacks on Turkish civilians and authorities.
Then there is the matter of Turkish forces entering the circular shooting arena of Syria, where they will at times be opposed by — and then in league with — a coalition of Iranians, Hezbollah, Syrians, and Kurds with Russians looking to pile on after they see who gets the upper hand. Who believes that the Turks will have an easy time entering Syria, pushing out Kurds, and then establishing and occupying a border corridor to resettle millions of refugees currently on Turkish soil or in Turkish hands? All of that seems a multibillion-dollar, multiyear, multi-casualty undertaking for a country currently in the economic doldrums.
Again, as a general rule, Never Trumpers and progressives are against anything that Trump is for, and they make the necessary ad hoc adjustments. They might have legitimate criticisms against Trump if he, as they accuse, simply flew off the handle in a call with the Turkish president and revoked established policies, and if he were now pulling all U.S. troops out of Syria.
But that has not happened — at least yet. It may, or may not, given that we don’t know whether Trump, in art-of-the-deal fashion, was blustering about a radical solution in order to achieve a moderate compromise, or whether he put conditions on the Turkish incursion, or whether he is shifting around rather than removing American troops. For now, only a few American troops have been pulled back from the front-line battle zones, and fewer withdrawn from Syria.
But, again, more irony abounds. Those on the left now screaming about loyal allies, and the ignominy of selling out friends, had no problems abandoning the Vietnamese and Hmong to Communist retaliation. They have demanded abject withdrawals from both Afghanistan and Iraq, which could lead to slaughter in the former case, and actually did in the latter, by creating a void that birthed the mass-murdering ISIS in Iraq.
Many of our newfound Kurdish loyalists supported the Hillary Clinton–Barack Obama misadventure in Libya that bombed the reforming second-generation Qaddafi dynasty out of power in order to support the supposed idealists of the Arab Spring. Yet our air strikes only enhanced a murderous civil war in Libya. And when it got uglier, we fled the ensuing mess, leaving four dead Americans and those idealists, on whose behalf we had intervened, on their own against predatory and opportunistic Islamists whom we had empowered.
Another irony: If Donald Trump announced that he was going to send more troops to save the Kurds from the Turks, he would be immediately damned by his present leftist and Never Trump critics for tearing apart NATO and starting another undeclared Middle East war.
So, yes, let us protect Kurdish lives. But let’s also swear that if we do, we must acknowledge that in the distant miasma of the Middle East, the unexpected should be expected, and those who now support American front-line deployments with the Kurds must equally support the possibly messy, long-haul commitment in which both allies and enemies have at times embraced terrorism. And first, let us make a convincing argument for why a 20-year-old from Ohio should die in the badlands of Syria to keep our NATO ally Turkey from murdering our friends the Kurds. And, second, let’s offer a plan for how we may disengage from any possible war as easily as we engaged, given that no one in this case can define final victory as the likely easy defeat and quick retreat of Turkey.
No one ever wonders why the UN is never expected to do the job is was created to do. The US pays most of the UN bills but, even though we are considered to be bullies, oppressors and imperialists, at home an abroad, we are always the default nation to expect to sacrifice its lives and treasure to secure some remote region where we have no national interests.
WHERE is the UN? Why don’t THEY impose penalties and pull people together to resolve conflicts? Why is it ALWAYS the de facto responsibility of the US?
To quote a successful Civil War General; “Get there firstest with the mostest” A doctrine of maneuver and concentration. In this light the US position in Syria was very weak creating a strong possibility of having to reinforce defeat and depend on Saudi Arabia to do even that.
The UN should simply be disbanded. They are worthless, and at an exorbitant cost. Pence and Pompeo got a cease fire from Turkey, but keep in mind… it is an agreement with a Muslim.
Cleaning up Obama’s mess.
@Deplorable Me: To be fair this goes way back to Daddy CIA NWO Bush.
Trump says U.S. will lift sanctions on Turkey, calling cease-fire in Syria ‘permanent’
So much for destroying the Turkish economy.
Iraqi defense minister gives US troops 4 weeks to leave Iraq
So, Russia’s sphere of influence will include a consolidated Syria/Iraq/Iran block. Well, at least we’re bringing our troops back from the Middle East.
U.S. to deploy military forces to Saudi Arabia, UAE after drone attacks on oil sites
Which the Saudis will be paying us for.
U.S. foreign policy has just been stood on it’s head by a former reality TV host and casino and golf resort owner, pursuant to secret discussions and agreements our State Department and Congress were not privy to. The champagne corks are popping in Moscow. Welcome to the New World Order.
@Greg: You know, Trump didn’t impose sanctions because it pleases him. He did it to achieve a certain outcome… which he succeeded in achieving.
We don’t WANT to be in Iraq.
We are actually making headway in solving foreign problems, many of which Obama just created and left behind… his legacy, if you will.
Obama and his reign of error is over. Trump is working hard to overcome the obstacles Obama left behind and repair the damage he caused. It ain’t easy cleaning up after a moron.
You folks have put away the entire pitcher of Kool-Aid, and then gone back for seconds and thirds.
Once upon a time, you all went ballistic when Obama pulled our troops out of Iraq—in compliance with the terms of a a Status of Forces Agreement established up by a republican president.
Are you still pitching the claim that Trump has reined in North Korea? That he has put Iran in its place by kicking to pieces the Nuclear Deal?
Because we had fought there to stabilize the nation and had a national interest there. Syria, however, was a place we should never have gone, had no interests there and were put into an ultimately losing situation. The only way we could exert more influence in that situation would be to move MORE troops and MORE equipment into Syria. Trump refuses to be stupid like Obama.
Trump could accomplish a lot more if Democrats weren’t trying to delegitimize him instead of trying to beat him in an election. Adversaries can simply sit back and wait for the Democrats to do their bidding: remove the first leader in decades that stares them down. But, Democrats only care about Democrats, not America or Americans.
Trump just surrendered any ability the United States might have had to influence the destiny of the Middle East to Vladimir Putin, who will use the Russia/Syria/Iraq/Iran alliance to gain power over Europe by dominating their access to petroleum and natural gas resources. Our military will become a rent-a-cop service provider to Saudi Arabia. We’ll argue about our complicity or lack thereof with respect to Yemen, but ultimately will turn a blind eye to what we’ve enabled—just as we’re ignoring what Saudi Arabia is rapidly becoming with the rise of Mohammad bin Salman. It isn’t like they shared many of our values to begin with. Turkey will increasingly fall under Russian influence, further weakening the NATO alliance that holds Putin’s expansionist ambitions in check. Ukraine will be likely be forced to make more concessions. Crimea won’t be enough. “Irredentism” will become a word everyone will be looking up.
For 10 points…What is Trump’s Middle East policy?
No doubt. He would have had entirely free rein. Imagine it.
@Greg: Sure Greg I have a better script
Trump policy GTFO.
There must be 50 ways….Slip out the back Jack, make a new plan Stan…
@Greg: No… OBAMA relinquished that, long ago. He made his stupid “red line” phony threat and then let Putin come in and bail him out. Are you willing to go to war with Russia and Syria to kick Putin out? I’m not… Trump’s not. All we could do is “be there” with our soldiers getting picked off by Iran’s IED’s.
As I recall, we have 9 carrier groups, each with the firepower of almost any nation on earth. We can exert all the power and influence (say… didn’t Obama teach us that was bad?) we need to exert. Russia has… uh, ONE.
Obama had us in a quagmire. Trump fixed it.