For the record, I am against the President pulling troops back from the Syrian-Turkey border simply because their presence there was preventing the bloodshed we’re seeing today. That’s a different discussion for a different time. But one thing I don’t appreciate is hearing talking heads and Twitter pundits saying we turned our backs on allies who fought on our behalf. This isn’t true at all.
The Kurds were not fighting for us. They were fighting both the Islamic State and the Syrian Army long before we got there. Our presence was to train and supply them, nothing more. Initially, President Obama envisioned a two-for-one scenario. He thought if we could support the Syrian Democratic Forces with arms and train their militia to use them, they would be better equipped to stop the Islamic State and to topple Bashir al-Assad’s government. One of those goals was realized seven years after it began. The other goal was never realistic in the first place.
Pulling back for the sake of appeasing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is likely going to be considered a mistake unless Turkey stops short of crossing the red line that has not been clearly defined, at least for the public. But let’s not conflate our alliance with the SDF to battle the Islamic State as de facto permanent residency for our troops. It wouldn’t matter whether we pulled out today, last year, or next year. Turkey would have invaded the moment we left, so the search for the “right time” is futile.
Those who say we shouldn’t have pulled out now are essentially saying we should never have pulled out. They’re insinuating that our presence must be indefinite for the sake of standing with our allies. I understand the sentiment, but let’s not forget that we were there to help them. They weren’t doing us a favor by fighting the Islamic State for us. They were fighting the Islamic State whether we were there or not. We were simply helping them win that battle.
If we needed to pull out now, it should have been within a time frame that allowed the people to either vacate the area along the border or choose to stay and fight. This would have allowed our Kurdish allies to decide whether they wanted to reinforce the border or pull back beyond 20 kilometers from the border, the unofficial line that both President Trump and President Erdogan believe to be the end of the “safe zone.”
We should appreciate the efforts put forth by the Kurds to rid their lands of the Islamic State. But let’s not rewrite history and say they were fighting the Islamic State on our behalf. They were fighting them with our help, but not for our sake.
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