Recep Tayyip Erdogan hates America. His government hates America. His willingness to occasionally play nice, whether with President Obama or President Trump, always comes with a heavy price. We may be on the verge of witnessing the heaviest price paid yet in the form of reinvigorated war in Syria and tens of thousands killed. If that happens, President Trump will have made a tremendous mistake by pandering to the Turkish dictator’s demands.
But there’s still hope for a bloodbath to be averted. The unintended benefit of the administration pulling back American troops from the border areas coveted by Turkey and currently held by our (former) allies, the Kurdish-back Syrian Democratic Forces, is that the international community is stepping up. Many countries have called for Erdogan to stand down from his intended invasion into northern and eastern Syria, including Iran. Their support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad means they’d love for Syrian Kurds to side with the government and bolster their army. Then, of course, there’s the economic threat President Trump made to Erdogan.
The decision by President Trump to pull back American forces has been controversial to say the least. Many Republican lawmakers have denounced the move. On social media, even MAGA-hat wearing conservatives are scratching their heads about why the President would pick this moment to fulfill his campaign promise of pulling American troops from the “quagmires” in the Middle East. Afghanistan seems to be the bigger quagmire; our troops in Syria were fairly safe standing side-by-side with Kurdish militia allies, even if their primary role was as human shields to prevent Turkey from attacking.
I’ll admit I’ve been searching for the silver lining in this whole mess. It’s great that our troops are being pulled out of harm’s way, but if the presence of a few dozen troops in strategic areas away from fighting is all it takes to prevent a large-scale war from breaking out in the region, then one does not have to be a hawkish neoconservative to see the benefits of maintaining our presence there. An “America first” stance is positive, as is the desire to leave the quagmires, but the small price being paid by having a small number of troops present in a relatively safe area helping others fight the Islamic State seems to make sense.
The actual silver lining, if I’m forced to come up with one, is that if and when Turkey does turn their threats against the Kurds into a reality, we may finally have grounds to stop pretending like Turkey is an ally. Their presence in NATO means we must defend them. The fact they have two extremely important U.S. bases on their soil must also be considered. But if Erdogan does as most expect him to do, then it’s imperative that President Trump stops treating them like one of our buddies in the region.
Admittedly, I’ve long considered the Turkish government to be a central point of evil in the world. It’s not just Erdogan’s dictatorial stances and oppressive policies. He has indicated he wants to lead the caliphate to expand Sunni Islam’s dominance in the region, and while he hasn’t outwardly expressed a desire to spread it beyond the region, it’s a safe assumption his goal of rebuilding the Ottoman Empire includes expansion of his powers.
Wiping out the Kurds, if it happens (God forbid) must be the last straw that finally prompts aggressive economic and political action against Turkey. If we have to shut down our bases there, so be it. The fewer connections we have with Turkey, the better. We have Israel and Saudi Arabia as much better allies than Turkey (though it isn’t wise to get me started ranting about our alliance with Saudi Arabia, either) in the region. Unless the unimaginable happens and Erdogan’s incursion into Syria is truly limited, we must prepare to break from them and treat them the way they truly feel about us: as adversaries.
Results from the President’s previous moves have come back to surprise me. I’m hoping this is another one of those cases. I’m hoping this works out for both our Kurdish allies and President Trump. With no other option, hope is all I have left on this issue.
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