On Monday, President Trump announced that a contingent of fewer than 100 U.S. troops in Syria was being moved away from Kurdish-held territory on the border of Turkey. The move effectively green-lighted military operations by Turkey against the Kurds, which have now commenced.
Some U.S. military officials went public with complaints about being “blindsided.” The policy cannot have been a surprise, though. The president has made no secret that he wants out of Syria, where we now have about 1,000 troops (down from over 2,000 last year). More broadly, he wants our forces out of the Middle East. He ran on that position. I’ve argued against his “endless wars” tropes, but his stance is popular. As for Syria specifically, many of the president’s advisers think we should stay, but he has not been persuaded.
The president’s announcement of the redeployment of the troops in Syria came on the heels of a phone conversation with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This, obviously, was a mistake, giving the appearance (and not for the first time) that Trump is taking cues from Ankara’s Islamist strongman. As has become rote, the inevitable criticism was followed by head-scratching tweets: The president vows to “totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey,” which “I’ve done before” (huh?), if Turkey takes any actions “that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits.” We can only sigh and say it will be interesting to see how the president backs up these haughty threats now that Erdogan has begun his invasion.
All that said, the president at least has a cogent position that is consistent with the Constitution and public opinion. He wants U.S. forces out of a conflict in which America’s interests have never been clear, and for which Congress has never approved military intervention. I find that sensible — no surprise, given that I have opposed intervention in Syria from the start (see, e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). The stridency of the counterarguments is matched only by their selectiveness in reciting relevant facts.
I thus respectfully dissent from our National Review editorial.
President Trump, it says, is “making a serious mistake” by moving our forces away from what is described as “Kurdish territory”; the resulting invasion by superior Turkish forces will “kill American allies” while “carving out a zone of dominance” that will serve further to “inflame and complicate” the region.
Where to begin? Perhaps with the basic fact that there is no Kurdish territory. There is Syrian territory on Turkey’s border that the Kurds are occupying — a situation that itself serves to “inflame and complicate” the region for reasons I shall come to. Ethnic Kurds do not have a state. They live in contiguous parts of Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. Most are integrated into these countries, but many are separatists.
The Kurds have been our allies against ISIS, but it is not for us that they have fought. They fight ISIS for themselves, with our help. They are seeking an autonomous zone and, ultimately, statehood. The editorial fails to note that the Kurds we have backed, led by the YPG (People’s Protection Units), are the Syrian branch of the PKK (the Kurdistan Worker’s Party) in Turkey. The PKK is a militant separatist organization with Marxist-Leninist roots. Although such informed observers as Michael Rubin contend that the PKK has “evolved,” it remains a formally designated foreign terrorist organization under U.S. law. While our government materially supports the PKK’s confederates, ordinary Americans have been prosecuted for materially supporting the PKK.
The PKK has a long history of conducting terrorist attacks, but their quarrel is not with us. So why has our government designated them as terrorists? Because they have been fighting an insurgent war against Turkey for over 30 years. Turkey remains our NATO ally, even though the Erdogan government is one of the more duplicitous and anti-Western actors in a region that teems with them — as I’ve detailed over the years (see, e.g., here, here, here, here, and in my 2012 book, Spring Fever). The Erdogan problem complicates but does not change the fact that Turkey is of great strategic significance to our security.
While it is a longer discussion, I would be open to considering the removal of both the PKK from the terrorist list and Turkey from NATO. For now, though, the blunt facts are that the PKK is a terrorist organization and Turkey is our ally. These are not mere technicalities. Contrary to the editorial’s suggestion, our government’s machinations in Syria have not put just one of our allies in a bind. There are two allies in this equation, and our support for one has already vexed the other. The ramifications are serious, not least Turkey’s continued lurch away from NATO and toward Moscow.
Without any public debate, the Obama administration in 2014 insinuated our nation into the Kurdish–Turk conflict by arming the YPG. To be sure, our intentions were good. ISIS had besieged the city of Kobani in northern Syria; but Turkey understandably regards the YPG as a terrorist organization, complicit in the PKK insurgency.
That brings us to another non-technicality that the editors mention only in passing: Our intervention in Syria has never been authorized by Congress. Those of us who opposed intervention maintained that congressional authorization was necessary because there was no imminent threat to our nation. Contrary to the editorial’s suggestion, having U.S. forces “deter further genocidal bloodshed in northern Syria” is not a mission for which Americans support committing our men and women in uniform. Such bloodlettings are the Muslim Middle East’s default condition, so the missions would never end.
A congressional debate should have been mandatory before we jumped into a multi-layered war, featuring anti-American actors and shifting loyalties on both sides. In fact, so complex is the situation that President Obama’s initial goal was to oust Syria’s Assad regime; only later came the pivot to fighting terrorists, which helped Assad. That is Syria: Opposing one set of America’s enemies only empowers another. More clear than what intervention would accomplish was the likelihood of becoming enmeshed, inadvertently or otherwise, in vicious conflicts of which we wanted no part — such as the notorious and longstanding conflict between Turks and Kurds.
Barbaric jihadist groups such as ISIS (an offshoot of al-Qaeda) come into existence because of Islamic fundamentalism. But saying so remains de trop in Washington. Instead, we tell ourselves that terrorism emerges due to “vacuums” created in the absence of U.S. forces. On this logic, there should always and forever be U.S. forces and involvement in places where hostility to America vastly outweighs American interests.
President Obama has wrongly been blamed for “creating” ISIS by leaving a vacuum in Iraq. Couldn’t be the sharia-supremacist culture, could it? No, we’re supposed to suppose that this sort of thing could happen anywhere. So, when Obama withdrew our forces from the region (as Trump is doing now), jihadist atrocities and territorial conquests ensued. Eventually, Obama decided that action needed to be taken. But invading with U.S. troops was not an option — it would have been deeply unpopular and undercut Obama’s tout that Islamic militarism was on the wane. Our government therefore sought proxy forces.
Most proved incompetent. The Kurds, however, are very capable. There was clamor on Capitol Hill to back them. We knew from the first, though, that supporting them was a time bomb. Turkey was never going to countenance a Kurdish autonomous zone, led by the YPG and PKK elements, on its Syrian border. Ankara was already adamant that the PKK was using the Kurdish autonomous zone in Iraq to encourage separatist uprisings in Turkey, where 20 percent of the population is Kurdish. Erdogan would never accept a similar arrangement in Syria; he would evict the YPG forcibly if it came to that.
A huge mess created solely by Obama. We had no business in Syria and should never have entered there. His intervention in Syria was stupid and ill-conceived. All Democrats that clamored for AUMF didn’t mind that there was none to intervene in another country in which we had no interests and was not threatening our interests. But Obama wanted to help Islamist extremists.
Getting AUMF was the Democrat mantra every time they invented the scenario where Trump was going to get involved in new military action (he hasn’t). Yet Trump extricating ourselves from a non-authorized, non-productive and exhausting situation is “bad”.
We should never have been in Syria.
The stronger our economy, the more other-than-military options we have. Democrats would have us weak, broke and reliant on everyone else to survive, putting us in the position where we cannot make decisions supporting our own national interests without being punished by those that control more of our destiny than we would like. We see how the UN has become nothing but a tool of radical Islam; THAT organization should be intervening in situations like Syria, developing multi-national support and agreement on resolving complex conflicts. Instead, they just sit on the sidelines and get rich off of bribes.
The NATO alliance includes Turkey.
The NATO member nations have not gone to war against one another…..yet.
By Pres Trump putting sanctions on Turkey IF Turkey attacks civilians in Syria, we set the table for ousting Turkey from NATO.
If that happens and Turkey continues to go after civilians in Syria, we can oust Erdogan, the real source of America’s problems in that region ever since he forbid our troops from going thru his territory in 2003.
He is also a real source of woe for Europe since he opens the floodgates of “migrants” whenever he feels like it.
And, last point, the Kurds being limited to their autonomous territory in northern Iraq is not a completely bad thing.
Remember, it was their lies that filled the ears of Bush/Cheney back in the day.
Their word is no more to be trusted than any other strict sharia sect.
@Nan G: Ultimately, no Muslims can be totally trusted. Sure, there are those individuals that help us in isolated situations because of the brutality they themselves have experienced, but relying on a Muslim government or organization should always be approached with caution. They NEVER owe any loyalty or allegiance to any infidel. We commit no sin if we use them just as they have used us.
Yes it is complicated.
Simply put, ISIS is an enemy, a terrorist enemy at that. The Kurds are allies, our friends.
Simply put, Trump freed a large number of ISIS while allowing the slaughter of Kurds.
@Ronald J. Ward: Adorable! We should shoot at NATO Allies. The Kurds have joined the Syrians in protecting their border from Turkeys invasion.
Trump isnt the boss of Syria or Turkey, no one wanted those that were captured, nor their familes that we fed on our dime.
Trump: Democrats are now saying I murdered someone.
Loyal Trump turd polisher: Lying Democrats say Trump murdered.
Trump: I did murder.
Loyal Trump turd polisher: Lying Democrats claim the death wasn’t an accident.
Trump: I murdered on purpose.
Loyal Trump turd polisher: Sometimes, murder is justified.
Trump: it was cold blooded, unnesasary, and I plan to murder again.
Loyal Trump turd polisher: Obviously, murder is a good thing.
@Ronald J. Ward: Cute you found a pile of crap to post on 2 threads, nothing original or on subject for either.
It’s every bit as relevant on one as it is the other.
It kinda goes along with my previous comments- that Trump could throw hand grenades into maturity wards and his sopporters would defend him. And my repeated question here of if there was any possible action, regardless of how unAmerican or evil, that could make you criticize him in the least or distract you from crying “Obama”. Obviously, there is none.
Ronald J. Ward: I am so upset Hillary lost.
Ajay: Yeah, me too. She was going to continue Obama’s march towards socialism.
Ronald J. Ward: Even though her entire political career is smeared with corruption,
I don’t really care. All I care about is liberalism.
Ajay: Me either. I just care that she’s a liberal, promising a lot of things she can
never deliver. Even though she lies about everything, I still believe she’s not
lying to ME.
Ronald J. Ward: Because we liberals are so intellectually superior, we don’t have
to care about how corrupt our leaders are. We only care about
using corruption, racism, lies and failure as a political weapon.
We’re too smart to be taken advantage of by corrupt, lying
thieves that take advantage of the entire country.
Ajay: Yeah, we’re too smart. Aren’t we?
Ronald J. Ward: Yeah, we’re too smart. I think. Wait, let me read the NYT and
watch some CNN to make sure. Yep, just as I thought. We’re too
smart. They say Trump is bad. He sure is bad, isn’t he?
Ajay: He sure is. What does he do that is so bad?
Ronald J. Ward: I don’t know, but they say he is, so let’s tell other people that he
is and then, when people question us and expect us to provide
the basis of our beliefs, we’ll just ignore the questions and think
they’ll just go away and forget they asked us. Because we are
Ajay: Yeah. We’re smarter.
Speaking of smarter, what are “sopporters”?
@Deplorable Me: Better question WTF is maturity wards? Maybe where they put their presidential candidates when they arent on the road or getting stints.