The Kurds and Turks have been in a state of perpetual conflict for 35 years. They were fighting before we went to Syria to take out the Islamic State and they will be fighting after we leave. Our presence there to help our brave friends of the Kurdish-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) defeat the Islamic State’s hold in eastern Syria morphed into the use of our soldiers as human shields to stave off attacks from Turkey. These are facts that everyone, regardless of political affiliation or foreign policy stance, can agree with if they’re being honest.
So, the question we have to ask ourselves following the President’s unpopular move to bring home troops from Syria is, what is the trigger for our withdrawal? The answer to that question has been staring us in the face for over three decades. There is no trigger. It’s a conflict that will not end until one side unequivocally gets everything they want. The Kurds want their own sovereign territories in Turkey and Syria just as they have a semi-autonomous region of Iraq. Ankara will not bend to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) demands in their own country and they’re convinced the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which are the primary militia group that led the fight to defeat the Islamic State in Syria, is working with their PKK brothers to undermine the Turkish government.
If that sounds complicated, keep in mind this is a very basic overview of an extremely complex situation at the Syria-Turkey border. It’s the type of localized conflict that does not have any bearing on American affairs, foreign or domestic. Nobody in DC cared about it before the Islamic State became a threat, but our sense of allegiance to those who helped us is what’s compelling many to say the President’s move is a big mistake. Politically, calling it a mistake is correct if Turkey goes beyond the 20-mile depth of the proposed “safe zone” and starts taking out Kurds across eastern Syria. What makes it worse is that the SDF disengaged at the border as a sign of good faith that the President would broker a deal on their behalf with Turkey.
It’s a mess, and it’s understandable that so many are upset with the move. I was. But the more I think about it, the harder it is to disregard the initial question. If Turkey is hell-bent on returning 1-2 million Syrian refugees to a 300-mile stretch along the border and they’re unwilling to negotiate a proper safe zone out of distrust of the Kurds, we’re at a permanent impasse. There could never be a “right time” to stop using our troops as human shields for the Kurds.
I’m not ready to endorse the President’s plan until we see how Turkey acts moving forward. If they start slaughtering Kurds along the border, then the President will have been proven wrong about this move. If they don’t, he will be vindicated as using economic power instead of military force to subdue Turkey’s ambitions. It would be a win-win for everyone if Turkey stays within the unofficial boundary of 20 miles deep into Syria as the Kurds will be safe, Turkey will be able to relieve themselves of refugees, fighting will be minimal if at all, and the President will have pulled off a diplomatic move even many in his own party thought impossible.
But again, if Turkey strikes hard and goes deep into Syria, severe sanctions and angry Tweets will not be enough to counter what would be seen as a major political blunder.
It’s important to note that this entire mess is a result of the failed policies of the Obama administration who pushed us into this awkward alliance with the Kurds in the first place while knowing there was no way to leave. President Obama had foolish dreams of killing two birds with one stone – stopping the Islamic State while also helping the SDF oust Syrian President Bashir al-Assad. It was a half-measure with full-blown consequences for our military forces in the region.
Here’s a better explanation. Admittedly, I didn’t make it all the way through the video so I can only vouch for the first three minutes or so…
Any time we turn our backs on our allies is the wrong time. But with no exit strategy in place or in view on the horizon, are we really prepared to keep troops in Syria indefinitely to act as human shields for the Kurds?
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