10 Questions To Ask About Trump’s Removal Of Troops From Syria
10 Questions To Ask About Trump’s Removal Of Troops From Syria By Lee Smith for The Federalist
Trump’s critics appear to believe that backing a Marxist splinter group aligned with the anti-American, pro-Iranian axis in its war against a NATO ally is sound policy.
The U.S. foreign policy establishment has gone into meltdown mode since President Trump announced last week a withdrawal of several dozen troops from a corridor in northern Syria. American forces had been there since 2014, joined with a Kurdish splinter group to fight the notorious Sunni Arab terrorist organization, the Islamic State (ISIS).
Trump made his decision after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but it was a long time coming. The Turks have been critical of U.S. support for an armed Kurdish organization they have considered the country’s most serious national security threat for five years. Trump’s move then should be seen in the context of his efforts to undo Obama administration policies, particularly its initiative to tilt away from traditional U.S. allies, like Turkey, and toward the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The bipartisan anti-Trump din (amplified by prominent GOP lawmakers) denouncing the withdrawal has obscured not only Obama’s disastrous 2014 decision to team with a terrorist organization at war with a NATO member but also basic facts about the ongoing conflict, the region, and the significant actors. The following ten questions are designed to illuminate the central issues for U.S. policy.
1. Who Are ‘the Kurds’?
The Kurds are an ethnic minority spread across the Middle East, from Syria in the West, through Turkey and Iraq, to Iran in the east, and further divided into various political groupings. America’s longtime ally among the Kurds is the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, comprising the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The KRG’s Peshmerga militia has fought alongside U.S. troops in Iraq.
But the present uproar is about an entirely different Kurdish political institution, which the Obama administration tapped in 2014 to fight ISIS—that’s the Democratic Union Party (PYD) with its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). This is the Syrian franchise of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist outfit that has been at war with Turkey since 1984. The PKK is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and is listed by the U.S. State Department, European Union, and Turkey as a terrorist organization.
After Obama administration officials counseled YPG leadership to camouflage the group’s roots in the PKK, they rebranded themselves as the Syrian Democratic Forces. The promise of U.S. arms and funds brought Arabs under the SDF banner, but the organization’s command structure is dominated by the PKK.
2. Why Does Erdogan Hate the Kurds?
Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen recently told an audience in Chicago that “Turkey’s leadership, Erdogan in particular… would kill every Kurd they possibly could and they’d label them all PKK.”
That’s nonsense. Turkey has Kurdish partners, like the U.S.-allied KDP in northern Iraq. There are between 10 to 15 million Kurds living in Turkey, many of whom support Erdogan. Turks are divided along many lines—the urban middle-class, for instance, tends to support secular political parties, while more traditional Turks prefer Erdogan’s Islamist party—but are unified regarding the terrorist organization the Obama administration armed, trained, and funded, the PKK.
Most American commentators, including Mullen, seem unaware that Erdogan has done more than any other Turkish leader to seek peace with the PKK. When he embarked on a peace process with its leadership in 2012, he came under heavy criticism from the left and right. The ceasefire ended in 2015 when the PKK killed four Turkish policemen.
3. Don’t the Kurds Deserve Their Own State?
There are between 30 and 40 million Kurds in Western Asia inhabiting enclaves in Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. With the post-World War I dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, there were proposals for Kurdish statehood, but the reason there is no Kurdish state and will likely never be one is not due to the world’s indifference. Rather, it is because of geopolitics.