The One Insurmountable Obstacle to Peace in Syria
The Turkish army did not invade Syria to attack the Kurds. That’s simply not true. The actual target of the Turkish operation (Peace Spring) was a group of separatist militants (The YPG) who have waged a bloody 30 year-long terrorist war on the Turkish state killing upwards of 40,000 people. With the assistance of US Special Forces, the YPG has seized most of the territory east of the Euphrates River including the area along Turkey’s southern border. Turkey could not allow a hostile militia to occupy towns and cities along its border any more than the United States could allow members of al Qaida to occupy bases along the Mexican border. It’s a matter of national security. The YPG was given the choice to either voluntarily withdraw or be removed by force. The United States would not have acted any differently.
The media would like people to believe that the Turkish incursion was driven by a pathological hatred of ethnic Kurds, but this isn’t true either. Keep in mind that 18 percent of Turkey’s population, roughly 14 million people, is Kurdish. If Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wanted to launch a war on Kurds, he didn’t have to go through the trouble of crossing the border to do so. He could have attacked them in his own country and been done with it. But that is not what Erdogan is doing. The Turkish operation is focused on one particular group, the People’s Protection Units or YPG, who rebranded themselves as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to conceal the fact that they are the Syrian affiliate of the notorious PKK, the Marxist-Leninist group that is on the US State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Washington formed an alliance with this sketchy group to achieve its strategic objectives in Syria while avoiding US casualties. The obvious downside of the arrangement is that, in exchange for their assistance, the US has helped to create an autonomous Kurdish statelet at the center of the Arab world that is vehemently opposed by every other country in the region. As you can see, the strategy was poorly-thought out from the beginning which is why it nearly exploded into a full-blown crisis.
Fortunately, President Trump was smart enough to respect Turkey’s legitimate security concerns and withdraw US troops from the conflict zone 20 miles deep into Syria. In doing so, Trump avoided a tragic and unnecessary conflagration with its 67-year NATO ally, Turkey. Not surprisingly, the US Congress, the foreign policy establishment and virtually the entire media lined up against Trump’s withdrawal proposal preferring instead to engage in a potentially catastrophic confrontation with Turkey rather than make reasonable and entirely painless concessions to a vital strategic partner in the region. Is it any wonder why US foreign policy is such a hopeless shambles?
In any event, the media has convinced the American people that Trump should not withdraw the troops. Instead, the US should remain in Syria in order to plunder Syria’s oil, defend its terrorist friends, and make a general nuisance out of itself for the foreseeable future. This is madness. The position of the United States is not only morally abhorrent it is also strategically absurd. Turkey is not only an ally, it is also a critical landbridge between Europe and Asia, an indispensable part of Washington’s “pivot” strategy. Turkey has emerged as the southern corridor’s primary ‘energy hub’, the vital crossroads for Middle East and Asian gas pipelines headed for the European market. Imagine if Turkey chose to abandon the dollar in future energy transactions delivering a blow to the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency. Such a move would unavoidably put pressure on the sale of US Treasuries which rely on the recycling of dollars into US debt markets. Is Washington willing to forgo its “exorbitant privilege” to defend its fledgling proxy army in Syria? The idea is ridiculous.
Even so, there is no denying that the American people have been effectively bamboozled by the media’s relentless disinformation campaign. According to a University of Michigan critical issues poll, a mere 21 percent of Americans support Trump’s plan to withdraw troops from northern Syria. In contrast, more than twice as many respondents (46%) oppose withdrawing US troops. (33% either ‘don’t know’ or are ‘indifferent’) What are we to make of these results given the fact that a clear majority of Americans are sick and tired of the country’s endless wars and foreign interventions?
It’s not hard to explain. Propaganda works, that’s all one needs to know. The media was given the task of garnering support for an unpopular and counterproductive military occupation, and they succeeded. The majority of people now believe that withdrawing US troops is “betraying the Kurds” which is a tacit admission of cowardice and disloyalty. Therefore, we must keep troops in Syria. End of story.
But what if we can show that Turkey is not attacking the Kurds, and that the US should not be supporting groups that are on its own list of terrorist organizations, and that, most importantly, the US deployment in Syria, however small, is still the main obstacle to peace in the country? Would that change any minds?
We have already mentioned that there are roughly 14 million Kurds living in Turkey all of who enjoy the same rights and benefits as other Turkish citizens. And while its true that the Kurds have suffered persecution in the past, it is also true that ” there are more than 100 Kurdish politicians serving in the Turkish Parliament, more than 10,000 Kurdish soldiers serving in the Turkish Army, more than 4 million marriages between Turks and Kurds, and the Director of Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency is Kurdish.”
Erdogan’s AK Party also passed reforms that provide Kurds with “the right to education in Kurdish in private schools, the right to choose Kurdish as a selective course in public schools, the right to use Kurdish names in official documents, the right to have election campaign materials in Kurdish, (and) the establishment of a public television channel …which broadcasts only in Kurdish 24/7,.” (The Daily Sabah)
Does this sound like a government that hates the Kurds enough to wage war on them?
Of course not. And then there’s the checkered history of the YPG which has its own bloody baggage to deal with. Take a look at this excerpt from an article in The Nation that sheds a bit of light on the activities of this shadowy group:
“The Kurdish militia that supplies the ground troops in the US air war against the Islamic State has been a systematic violator of human rights in the area it controls in northern Syria, causing the displacement of tens of thousands of Arabs and even more massive flight by Kurds from the region….
As the collaboration with the United States increased in 2015, the YPG stepped up its expulsion of Arabs from the northern border area. This peaked in mid-2015 with the displacement or denial of return of at least 60,000 Arabs after the YPG captured Tal Abyad on the Turkish border, according to Sa’ad Shwish, exiled head of the local governing council in Raqqa.
The pace of the expulsions picked up dramatically after the United States began joint operations against the Islamic State in Syria in mid-2015, as the Kurdish militia threatened Arabs with air strikes if they didn’t leave their villages. While they slowed in 2016, expulsions continue even as the militia turns on its political rivals and jails, tortures, or expels them….
At least 200,000 Syrian Kurds have fled to Turkey rather than submit to forced conscription and political repression….At least 300,000 Syrian Kurds have also fled the region to neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan, according to officials there, and no fewer than 200,000 have fled to Turkey rather than submit to forced conscription and political suppression by a group that insists on ruling as a one-party state, according to Kurdish human-rights monitors in Turkey. …
One high-level official in the Obama administration called the region under YPG control a “mini-totalitarian state.” (“Have the Syrian Kurds Committed War Crimes?”, Roy Gutman, The Nation)
Should the United States be joined-at-the-hip with an organization that is involved in mass killing, human rights violations and ethnic cleansing? And would we be “betraying the Kurds” if we severed relations with the YPG, withdrew our troops from Syria, and let the Turks and Syrians sort this mess out for themselves??
On a personal level, I am sympathetic to the idea of a Kurdish state. The Kurds, after all, are the largest ethnic minority in the world without their own state. What I am not sympathetic to is the US using militant proxies who the State Department has identified as terrorists to carve up and occupy another country in the Middle East. That is a policy that wreaks of hypocrisy.
None of this is meant to infer that Turkey’s role in Syria has been helpful or productive. Quite the contrary, Turkey has supported many of the disparate jihadist militias that have prolonged the war, sent millions of civilians fleeing for cover, and reduced vast swathes of the country to rubble. Without question, Turkey shares a very large part of the blame for Syria’s current (desperate) predicament. At present, Turkey occupies a large part of Northern Syria both east and west of the Euphrates. The government has recently begun an ambitious resettlement program which has already returned more than half a million Syrian refugees to locations in Syria that are now under Turkish rule. And although Erdogan signed a memorandum with Putin that promises to respect the territorial integrity of Syria’s prewar borders, it’s clear that Turkey will not abide by that agreement. Instead, Erdogan will continue to resettle areas in Syria that he now controls, he will install local leaders that are loyal to Ankara, and he will eventually redraw Turkey’s borders so they include large tracts of what used to be northern Syria. But while Turkey’s army will not give up the ground they have already captured,
Erdogan has shown that he will make concessions if the price for achieving his ambitions is too high. The same cannot be said for Washington’s foreign policy establishment that wants to continue the occupation whatever the cost. Accordingly, the US has adopted an operational strategy of “forward deterrence” which means the focus has shifted from removing Assad, which is no longer possible, to preventing Russia and Iran from restoring Syria’s sovereign borders and security. Washington’s current role in Syria is that of “a spoiler.”
And this is what needs to change because the war in Syria cannot end until the American troops leave. When the US finally withdraws, the Syrian army, with the help of the Russian airforce, will swiftly retake east Syria stopping the Turkish advance in its tracks. The Kurds will then be forced to make a deal with Damascus that includes a mutually acceptable agreement for home rule within the confines of the Syrian state. The Russians may challenge Turkey’s land-grab in northern Syria, but Putin will not start another war to enforce his demands. That means Syria’s borders will be redrawn, even while the prospects for peace steadily improve. The Assad government will reassert control over most of its territory, 10 million refugees will return to their homes, and the reconstruction of the battered country will finally begin.
The one insurmountable obstacle to peace in Syria is the US occupation. Trump can create the conditions for ending the war, but only if he is courageous enough to confront his adversaries in the media, the Congress and the foreign policy establishment. That’s the only way forward.
Note–Here is a link to the censored 5 minute video that Erdogan showed to Trump on his IPAD in his recent visit to the White House. The video was blasted as “propaganda” by the media because it provides a chilling summary of the bloody terrorist attacks conducted by the YPG. The video also conflicts with the media’s narrative that Turkey has launched a war on the Kurds, which isn’t true.
By Mike Whitney
Source: The Unz Review