The bulk of this note is excerpted from a post I published in April, 2018, pertaining to Syria. Rather than abandon our Kurdish allies – which President Trump in effect ordered this week — I am an unabashed supporter of the Kurds, and of the establishment of an independent Kurdistan — a position that is, for obvious reasons, anathema to the countries that would necessarily be ceding territory if such a state was established. [The “YPG” mentioned in the note is the military arm of the “Syrian Democratic Forces (‘SDF’)” referred to in the current accounts of the President’s decision.] I also left in that post’s paragraph on Ukraine since that nation has also been just a tiny bit in the news lately ;). Not surprisingly, none of the measures I suggested 18 months ago have been undertaken.
Bashar Al-Assad is a hollow man, propped up by Russia and Iran for their own purposes. Since Turkey has also engaged the conflict more as an ally of Russia and Iran than of the U.S., it could also be helpful to U.S. interests if it suffers repercussions for its forays. We might consider broadening our approach to give the Russians, the Iranians, and the Turks something more to think about, lessening their focus on their collaboration protecting Mr. Assad, including the following:
- Russia’s strategic interests are on its European border, not in the Middle East. Issue a ringing commitment to NATO. It will reassure our NATO allies, and make Mr. Putin aware that he has challenges in his own neighborhood.
- Put more than talk behind our support of Ukraine. After quiet consultation with Congress – and with the U.K. and France if they would collaborate — the Administration should execute a codicil to the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances pledging military assistance to Ukraine in the event its borders are infringed, and place a symbolic U.S. force at the Ukraine-Russia border.
- As to Turkey, double the number of U.S. troops assisting our Kurdish allies in the region of Syria in which the YPG is currently fighting ISIS on behalf of the alleged coalition. Inform the Turkish government that any military action against the YPG that results in American casualties will be dealt with severely.
- Call for dividing Syria into separate states, as was done in Bosnia: an independent Kurdish state – perhaps linked to the Kurdistan region in Iraq; a independent Sunni state (75% of Syrians are Sunni); and an Alawite state under Assad control.
- It would give the Kurds something to continue to fight for, and would show the U.S. was firmly behind its staunchest and most effective ally against ISIS. Right now, the world doesn’t believe the U.S. can be trusted.
- It would be unsettling to the Iranians, since Iran has a significant Kurdish population; only a positive.
- Turkey would hate it. Turkey might require us to close our air bases in Turkey (that said, some analysts assert that the air bases are no longer strategic). Such a step – if a careful assessment is made that U.S. defenses can be maintained without the air bases — may be worth the price: President Erdogan has made himself a de facto dictator, abusing his people’s rights; Turkey has established too warm a relationship with Russia and Iran to be considered a reliable NATO ally; Turkey has condoned the beating of American protesters by Mr. Erdogan’s body guards when he visited the U.S.; Turkey has arguably conspired with Michael Flynn for a kidnapping of Mr. Gulan on American soil. Turkey is, at best, a neutral in the U.S. struggle with Russia and Iran. It should be treated that way.
- Concededly, Iraq would hate it for giving strength to its Kurdistan regional government. Admittedly a factor that weighs against the move; some accommodation to the Iraqis would need to be made.
- The Saudis and the other Gulf States would presumably welcome such a move, given the creation of another Sunni state to align against Iran.
- Ironically, President Assad might favor such a move if it meant that he was able to safely remain in power without the concern that the U.S. would any longer try to have him deposed. (Admittedly, he might well feel that given the way events have unfolded, there is no need to give up any of his country.)
I recently suggested that the manner in which we responded to Iran’s September attack on Saudi Arabian oil assets would be closely monitored by adversaries such as the Russia, China, North Korea, and the Taliban. Although I am merely echoing the chorus here, I would similarly submit that Mr. Trump’s decision to pull our forces from our collaboration with the Kurds – in effect leaving hanging those who have most loyally and steadfastly advanced our efforts against ISIS — will be closely noted by our allies within the Middle East and throughout the world. We are riding in an unmoored rollercoaster.
The President of the United States, as part of a tweet issued on October 7, 2019, regarding his decision to withdraw U.S. troops:
“As I have stated strongly before … that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom …”
“I am Oz, the Great and Powerful … Do you presume to criticize the Great Oz? You ungrateful creatures! The Great Oz has spoken!”
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer: 1939: The Wizard of Oz