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Will Trump's Dithering Trigger a Turkish Invasion?
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“President Trump said the U.S. will withdraw, but the people working with him say something entirely different. Because of this uncertainty, we don’t know what he will do.” Dmitry Peskov, Press Secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin

“Against stupidity, no amount of planning will prevail.” Carl von Clausewitz

The Turkish government is not going to let terrorists occupy territory on their southern border any more than the United States would allow al Qaida cells to occupy camps along the US-Mexico border. Turkey simply cannot allow the current arrangement to continue, mainly because these groups (The Syrian Democratic Forces or SDF) pose a clear and present danger to Turkish national security.

This situation has not been adequately explained to the American people, mainly because ‘clarity’ does not serve the interests of the US foreign policy establishment and their allies in the western media. The media would like readers to believe that the US occupation of Syria must continue to “protect the Kurds from a Turkish invasion”. But that narrative is deeply flawed and misleading. The SDF is comprised of troops from the YPG or People’s Protection Units which is linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is on the US State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. According to a report by the Council on Foreign Relations:

“The PKK was formed with Marxist-Leninist roots in 1974 and, until recently, sought to create an independent Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey and parts of neighboring countries inhabited by Kurds… the group turned to terrorist tactics in the mid-1980s, relying on guerrilla warfare that included kidnappings of foreign tourists in Turkey, suicide bombings, and attacks on Turkish diplomatic offices in Europe. The PKK has also repeatedly attacked civilians who refuse to assist it. As fighting reached a peak in the mid-1990s, thousands of villages were destroyed in southeast and eastern Turkey. The PKK launched most of its attacks on Turkish security forces, but also attacked other Turkish sites at home and abroad, as well as Kurdish civilians who would not cooperate with the group. An estimated thirty-seven thousand people have been killed in the fighting.” (Inside the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), The Council on Foreign Relations)

The western media is concealing important facts about American’s proxy-army in Syria because they don’t want to undermine public support for the ongoing occupation. In other words, the media is once again pulling the wool over people’s eyes like they did with Saddam’s fictitious WMDs. Now check out this blurb from the Daily Sabah:

“General Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), met Monday with Turkey’s most wanted terrorist, the head of the PKK-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria, to discuss the U.S. military’s withdrawal from the country. The U.S. Army general, along with other senior U.S. generals, met with several prominent figures of the SDF, which is predominantly led by the PKK’s Syrian offshoot People’s Protection Units (YPG) terrorists, at an airbase in northeast Syria and held a press conference with a small group of reporters.

In the meeting, Ferhad Abdi Şahin, codenamed “Mazlum Kobani,” who is the commander-in-chief of the U.S.-backed SDF, called for about 1,000 to 1,500 international forces to remain in Syria to help fight Daesh terrorist group and expressed hope that the United States, in particular, would halt plans for a total pullout. His plea comes at a time when Ankara has been signaling a cross-border operation in northern Syria to eradicate the presence of the PKK’s branches on its southern border….

The close U.S. partnership with the SDF/YPG since the Barack Obama administration has been always a sticking point in Washington-Ankara relations. Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the PKK, which has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people in its 30-year terror campaign against Turkey. The U.S., however, while listing the PKK as a terrorist group, opted to continue its steadfast military support for the terrorist organization under the pretext of fighting Daesh, despite Ankara’s warnings that the terrorist groups cannot continue its presence along Turkish borders (US Gen. Votel meets Turkey’s most wanted terrorist, head of PKK-led SDF, The Daily Sabah)

Naturally, you’re not going to read anything about Votel’s meeting (with a terrorist leader) in the western press, but it is helpful to have a fuller picture of what’s going on before passing judgement. In fact, even the name “The Syrian Democratic Force” is nothing more than a public relations confection concocted by people who want to conceal the details of Washington’s dodgy alliance. That is not to say, that the Kurdish people do not deserve their own state. (The 30 million Kurds in the region represent the single largest ethnic group in the world without their own state.) They do, but we still need to be honest about Washington’s proxies and why the current confrontation between Turkey and the US is not only prolonging the war, but also creating a situation that will undoubtedly strengthen Ankara’s relations with Moscow precipitating a dramatic shift in the geopolitical balance of power. You see, Turkey, Iran and Russia (Astana Summit) have already worked out most of the details for a political settlement to end the war in Syria. The main obstacle to peace in Syria is the United States, and particularly the growing uncertainly over Trump’s withdrawal plans. Simply put: If the US packed up and left Syria tomorrow, there would likely be an end to the conflict in a matter of months. The problem is that Trump is being pulled in opposite directions by powerful members of the foreign policy establishment (aka– “The Borg”) who want to perpetuate US involvement to achieve their strategic objectives which are:

  • to seize and occupy all the cities, oil fields, highways and territory east of the Euphrates River.
  • to establish permanent US military bases across east Syria
  • to create a de facto antonymous Kurdish state in the heart of the Arab world (a “second Israel”?) from which further attacks on the government (or Iran) can be launched
  • to partition the country consistent with Washington’s original plan to topple all strong, secular sovereign governments in the Middle East, plunge the target-nations into anarchy and ruin, and splinter the region into smaller ethnic and confessional statelets that are too weak to defend themselves against imperial rule or resource extraction.

The SDF has provided the necessary boots on the ground for Washington to achieve its goals in east Syria. (apart from removing Assad) The only drawback to the US plan is that Turkey opposes the creation of a Kurdish state, opposes a “terrorist corridor” on its southern flank, and opposes the redrawing of Syria’s national borders.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly warned that he is prepared launch a full-blown military invasion of Syria if the US fails to comply with his demands for a safe zone that is administered by Turkey that will ensure that all YPG-linked troops are expelled from the area along the Turkish border. And while I am not a fan of the mercurial and autocratic, Erdogan, he has been completely upfront and candid about his national security demands (a 20 mile deep ‘safe zone’) dating back to 2012. The Obama administration ignored Erdogan’s demands because they didn’t coincide with Washington’s strategic objectives. Now Trump has revisited the Obama policy and concluded that the US has completed its mission in Syria (defeating ISIS) and should withdrawal immediately.

Why would Trump do this, after all, the foreign policy establishment, the political class, and the entire media are opposed to an American withdrawal insisting that it would lead to a Turkish invasion and a wholesale massacre of Kurds in northeast Syria?

Trump is merely honoring an agreement the US made with Turkey over 5 months ago. The so called Manbij Roadmap was signed in June, 2018, a full 6 months before Trump’s withdrawal announcement. The deal requires the US to work with Turkey to remove all terrorist groups from Manbij– which is a Syrian city east of the Euphrates– and to assist with security during the transition period. According to Reuters:

“The aim of this roadmap is the clearing of Manbij of all terror organizations and the permanent instatement of safety and stability,” Cavusoglu told a press conference in Washington. “In the first step, the determination of parameters for common plans for the removal of YPG-PYD from Manbij – you can also call it PKK – will be determined.”…

“In the long term, this road map that will implemented in Manbij will be carried to other regions to implement security and stability in other regions in Syria. Meaning the cooperation will continue in other regions,” he added.” (“Turkey, U.S. agree roadmap to avert crisis in Syria’s Manbij, few details”, Reuters)

This was the deal the US made with Erdogan during a period of heightened tensions between the two NATO allies. The agreement was made to placate Erdogan and to forestall the imminent invasion by Turkish troops massed on the Syrian border. Readers need to understand that Turkey is not behaving irrationally or precipitously. The Trump team made the deal, and Turkey expects them to keep that deal, that is the long and short of it.

The media has also mischaracterized Trump’s December 19th announcement to withdraw all 2,000 US troops from Syria bringing an end to the failed 8 year-long military campaign. The announcement was not the decision of an unstable and impulsive autocrat who had no real grasp of the situation. (as the media would like you to believe) What the media failed to report is that Trump had discussed the issue with a frustrated Erdogan just days earlier, and he decided to withdraw to avoid an acrimonious split with a NATO ally who was threatening to invade at any minute. Check out this article at the Guardian date December 12, 2018, just 7 days before Trump’s announcement.

“The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has said that Turkey will launch a military operation against the Kurds in northern Syria within days, in a decision that could signal a shift in Turkish-US relations and have far-reaching consequences for Syria’s future.

Long frustrated by US support for Kurdish militias that Turkey views as terrorists, Erdoğan has threatened to push deeper into north-eastern Syria since sending Turkish forces into the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in February.

The president said during a televised speech in Ankara on Wednesday that the operation was imminent. “We will begin our operation to free the east of the Euphrates [river] from the separatist organisation within a few days,” he told MPs. “Our target is not the American soldiers – it is the terror organisations that are active in the region.”

Erdoğan also expressed disappointment that US-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria had not left the town of Manbij, as agreed in a US-Turkish deal brokered this year. “The Americans are not being honest; they are still not removing terrorists [from Manbij],” he said. “Therefore, we will do it.” (Turkey primed to start offensive against US-backed Kurds in Syria, The Guardian)

There was no mention of Erdogan’s threats in any of the mainstream news publications. The focus was almost entirely on Trump who was blasted as impetuous and ignorant, a foreign policy dilettante. In fact, Trump was merely pursuing the rational option, which was to give ground on Turkey’s legitimate national security needs while concealing his real motives for the policy-change. Naturally, he couldn’t say the US was withdrawing because of Turkey’s sabre rattling, but that, in fact, is what happened. And that’s why Trump announced a ‘complete withdrawal of US troops’; it was a clumsy effort to hide the fact that Washington was backing down on their plan to control the area up to the Turkish border. The Trump team tried to make it look like the president was just keeping a campaign promise, but–as you can see– there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Now, of course, the administration has abandoned its withdrawal plan and decided to keep 400 troops in Syria indefinitely. Unfortunately, the new policy only further exacerbates the tension between the US and Turkey. The reduction in troops does not in any way alleviate Turkey’s security concerns, in fact, it worsens them because it indicates that Washington is more resolved than ever to preserve the status quo. If the US and their multinational allies stay, the YPG will continue to occupy Manbij and other territory along the Turkish border, the de facto independent Kurdish state in East Syria will be preserved, and Turkey will be prevented from resettling the more than 3 million Syrian refugees it has housed for the last 8 years. So, how exactly does Turkey benefit from this troop-reduction plan?

It doesn’t. Turkey doesn’t get anything out of the deal. Nor does the new arrangement fulfill the basic requirements of the Manbij Roadmap. There won’t be any joint Turkish-US patrols because Washington is now committed to keeping Turkey out of Syria altogether in order to “protect the Kurds”, which is a misleading sobriquet that is used to hide the real motive, which is to occupy east Syria and protect Washington’s terrorist-linked militia.

So, will Trump’s modified plan work? Will Erdogan see the withdrawal of some US troops as an honest attempt at peace and security?

No, of course not, because nothing has changed. The only choice Erdogan has is to ratchet up the pressure by delivering more threats to invade. And that is precisely the course that Erdogan has decided to pursue. This is from the Turkish daily Hurriyet:

“President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Tuesday that “Turkey’s patience will run out soon if the PKK-linked YPG terrorists do not leave Syria’s Manbij within the next few weeks.”…Erdoğan also complained about the pace of the implementation of a road map for the withdrawal of the YPG from Manbij city of Syria. “It’s also very important. There is a delay. They have said 90 days [for the withdrawal] but it has been nearly a year. They still say they will implement it,” he stressed…. (Hurriyet)

And here’s more from The Daily Sabah:

“The U.S. understands the safe zone as protecting YPG-PKK, however Turkey will not accept this format. Turkey was very clear from the beginning. Turkey has two clear objectives: Clearing the terrorist elements from the border and having refugees go back to Syria safely.

Any moves that would lead to protection for YPG terrorists under the guise of a safe zone plan will not be accepted, Ankara says, further underlining that the proposed zone must be under Turkey’s control

…. Ankara has clearly stressed that a zone free from the PKK-linked People’s Protection Units (YPG) should be set up under its control in order to establish security in a region grappling with instability. Since the presence of the YPG just on the other side of the border is a direct threat to Turkey, officials in Ankara have been stressing that a safe zone should be under the control of Turkey, which is the main party concerned in the issue….

…U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Friday at the Munich Security Conference that Trump would ask European countries to send troops to establish a safe zone in Syria….

“We owe it to Turkey, an ally, to fix this problem….. we need a safe zone to deal with that problem,” he added, clearly saying that the U.S. will continue to protect the terrorist group.” (Safe zone must be for Syrians, not protection for YPG terrorists”, Daily Sabah)

Notice how Graham skillfully twists the meaning of the term “safe zone” to mean protecting the YPG. Notice also how the war in Syria is being prolonged not because of Russia, Iran, Hezbollah or even ISIS, but because two NATO allies are vying for control over territory over which neither country has any legal claim. That’s what’s really going on in Syria today, and it is fast becoming a crisis.

The United States– which has already provoked Turkey on everything from Patriot Missiles, to Turkstream, to a failed (CIA-backed?) coup to remove Erdogan from power in 2016– is now prepared to risk a war with a crucial geopolitical partner– that represents a vital landbridge to Central Asia– simply to maintain its tenuous presence in a country where it has no business, no future, and no prospects for military success.

Trump is right on this one, the US should declare “victory” and go home.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Donald Trump, Kurds, Syria, Turkey 
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  1. Giuseppe says:

    It is good to have you back. I have always enjoyed your insight and balanced perspective, and I always look forward to reading your columns. Keep ’em coming.

    • Replies: @animalogic
  2. Ronnie says:

    The MSM supports the US Government and the US Government supports Israel. There may also be money involved. The same applies in the UK, France etc. We are getting the Zionist version of the truth.

  3. “to partition the country consistent with Washington’s original plan to topple all strong, secular sovereign governments….., plunge the target-nations into anarchy and ruin, and splinter the region into smaller ethnic and confessional statelets that are too weak to defend themselves against imperial rule or resource extraction.”

    I let my attention wander mid-sentence and thought, for a moment, that you were describing the Neo-Libs’ treatment of the United States.

  4. Antiwar7 says:

    Just to put some nuance on the history of that conflict, the Turkish govt was pretty scorched-earth in their tactics, and many of those destroyed villages were caused by them. For eight years (1983–1991) it was illegal to broadcast or publish in Kurdish.

    But it’s true that the Turkish govt views the Kurdish forces in Syria as a direct threat, and it’s silly or malevolent to suppress that info.

  5. Yee says:

    Turkey and the US grab a chunk of Syria and start bargaining…

  6. The Turkish government is not going to let terrorists occupy territory on their southern border any more than the United States would allow al Qaida cells to occupy camps along the US-Mexico border. Turkey simply cannot allow the current arrangement to continue, mainly because these groups (The Syrian Democratic Forces or SDF) pose a clear and present danger to Turkish national security.

    Actually, they’ve been tolerating it for decades, because the alternative was an expensive invasion of Syria that would be opposed, with arms, grants and loans, by the other Arab states, which do not relish the re-establishment of the Ottoman empire. The Arab countries fulminate against Israel, but Israel obviously lacks the numbers or the ambition to occupy them. Can’t say that about the region’s traditional hegemon of the past 2000+ years, Iran, or the relatively new hegemon of the past ~1000 years, Turkey (whether in the guise of the Seljuks or Ottomans).

    The biggest threat to Turkey’s national security is obviously Russia, given that the Turks occupy the capital of the Eastern Orthodox church. It seems to have taken this threat in stride. Compared to Russia, the Kurds are a pimple on the rear end of a gnat. Ultimately, the Turks will restrain themselves in the Alawite-controlled parts of Syria, because the alternative is more Russian shootdowns of Turkish aircraft. Equally, they will rein themselves in with respect to the Kurdish-controlled parts as well, because the alternative is the destruction of Turkish units in the manner of the Russian mercenaries who were slaughtered while advancing towards Kurdish positions. Trump wants to withdraw, but he won’t countenance the destruction of American units by Turkish forces. Erdogan can huff and puff, but prospect of thousands of Turkish casualties and the destruction of billions of dollars of military equipment will give him pause.

  7. @Giuseppe

    Very good article — fills in the back story behind Trump’s withdrawl announcement.
    Agree: it’s great to have Mr Whitney back. And, yes, “Keep ’em coming.”

  8. OCGOKTAS says:

    Thank you. This is the most honest article I have read on this subject so far, but still lacking of some basics like Israel influence.

  9. YEAH!!! Mike Whitney’s back! I was worried that he had disappeared forever.

  10. Christie says:

    Mr. Whitney — I, too, was beginning to despair that you’d never return. Please stick around. And thank you for this most helpful analysis.

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