October 17, 2019

Turkey’s Offensive in Syria

“Turkey vowed to press ahead with its offensive in northern Syria on Tuesday despite U.S. sanctions and growing calls for it to stop.” Reuters

Many on both sides are criticizing the US troop withdrawal and Turkey’s military operation:

“Trump may indeed have campaigned on getting out of Syria. He didn’t campaign on potentially freeing thousands of Islamic State fighters, greenlighting ethnic cleansing, or empowering Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and Russian president Vladimir Putin. A serious policy of disengagement from the Middle East would require working with our allies in the region and elsewhere. It would involve intense planning by the Pentagon and State Department. And, most importantly, it would necessitate tough negotiations with the Turks to minimize our betrayal of a people who lost some 11,000 troops fighting at our side.”
Jonah Goldberg, National Review

“History is littered with instances of one-time allies abandoned by Washington to their fate… Yet the decision by the Trump administration to quit Syria stands apart because the status quo was entirely sustainable. American forces were not taking high numbers of casualties. The region under control of the Kurds was largely quiet. Islamic State fighters were penned up. There wasn’t major international pressure for the United States to withdraw. If the Trump administration had wanted to acquiesce to Mr. Erdogan’s pleadings to let Turkey take stronger actions in service of its own national security, it could surely have managed such steps in a far more measured and coordinated manner… The decision makes as little sense strategically as it does morally.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

“Mr. Trump was able to project an image of strength in his early days as he prosecuted the war against ISIS and used force to impose a cost on Mr. Assad for using chemical weapons. But that image has faded as he has indulged his inner Rand Paul… This is simple-minded isolationism, and it’s a message to the world’s rogues that a U.S. President has little interest in engaging on behalf of American allies or interests. Friends like Israel and Saudi Arabia are quietly dismayed, while Iran, Russia and Hezbollah can’t believe Mr. Trump has so glibly abandoned U.S. commitments and military partners.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“Even operating within the constraints that Trump has foolishly adopted,there are actions the U.S. could—and should—take to mitigate the damage. If he must allow Turkey to create a 20 km ‘safe zone’ in Syrian territory, the U.S. should take responsibility for making it actually safe, because what is currently a military onslaught could quickly become a humanitarian crisis… if we move fast with a proposed buffer, before the long-term consequences of Trump’s support for Turkey’s invasion are manifest, we might still be able to get partners to help us, and mitigate the damage.”
Kori Schake, The Atlantic

Both sides are also skeptical of the sanctions:

“Our troops are scrambling to safely get out of the affected areas and the Kurds have signed on to cooperate with Assad’s Syrian army. But we’re definitely going to start making steel more expensive… or something… This sounds like the President wants to impose sanctions on Turkey for doing precisely what Erdogan told him he was going to do. How do you invade a country and start fighting without precipitating a humanitarian crisis? People who are being invaded by a foreign army are pretty much facing a humanitarian crisis by definition.”
Jazz Shaw, Hot Air

“[Sanctions have], in short, become the Trump administration’s one consistent move when confronted with the world’s most complex problems: squeeze countries economically while staying open to dialogue and offering to release the economic vise if they mend their ways. The administration has proved adept at the squeeze, but more inept when it comes to changing behavior. It has so far failed to achieve its desired outcomes in Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and now Syria… To extinguish a military conflagration unfolding in real time, the administration is resorting to measures that notoriously take a lot of time to come to fruition. The U.S. financial system is powerful, but not so powerful that it can swiftly stop a military assault in its tracks.”
Uri Friedman, The Atlantic

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

There are a couple ways to look at what’s going on. One is that the administration has been putting on a show this past week. Even the sanctions, some critics suggest, are relatively mild, too late to have much impact on the ground, and could have been a way to head off more aggressive action targeting Turkey from Congress. Another perspective is that the scope and brutality of the Turkish operation has gone beyond what the administration expected. (Certainly U.S. forces coming under Turkish artillery fire couldn’t have been anticipated. The whole justification for this order was to take troopsout of harm’s way)… Yet another possibility is that administration officials, military commanders, and congressional Republican hawks are scrambling to contain the damage done by the president.”
Joshua Keating, Slate

“Trump, like his predecessors, has a right to make the wrong strategic decisions. He has a right to make stupid mistakes. God knows previous US presidents have made them before. But presidents must make these decisions, even foolish ones, based on what they think is in the best interest of the United States…

“The President already told us, before becoming president, that he had ‘a little conflict of interest’ with Turkey, where he has substantial business concerns, including not one but two Trump towers. But maybe that has nothing to do with it. Maybe it was just arrogance, carelessness, hubris. Under normal circumstances, we might shake our heads at Trump's decision; call it a horrible mistake and make the best of it. But these are not normal circumstances, and this is not just any poor tactical move.This foreign policy travesty demands answers.”
Frida Ghitis, CNN

Some ask, “Why Are U.S. Nuclear Bombs Still in Turkey? The best time to get atomic weapons out was several years ago. The second best time is now… There’s no putting the toothpaste back in the tube—or bringing back the U.S.-allied Kurds who’ve been slaughtered as a result of Turkish cruelty and presidential nihilism—but there are lingering risks that can be managed. Removing the U.S. atomic arsenal from Turkey won’t fix the world, but it could save the world from experiencing its stupidest disaster yet.”
Ankit Panda, New Republic

From the Right

“Washington’s ad hoc partnership with Syrian Kurds never included a commitment to help them fight Turkey, only to fight the Islamic State… Turkey is a long-term strategic ally that exercises major influence in the Middle East. The YPG is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK in its Kurdish acronym), a U.S.-designated terrorist group that has waged war against Turkey off and on since 1984 in a bloody separatist insurrection that has claimed more than 40,000 lives…

“Erdogan told Trump in a phone call that Turkey was determined to cross the border. After Erdogan stated that he would unilaterally establish the zone by force, Trump acquiesced and pulled U.S. troops out of harm’s way. If that order had not been given, there was a significant risk that U.S. troops would have been caught up in the fighting or even drawn into a military clash with Turkey. Although there has been much handwringing over the administration’s failure to support the Kurds against Turkey, it’s difficult to see how battling a NATO ally would have preserved American credibility as an ally.”
James Phillips, Daily Signal

Others note, “Syria’s northeast is a patchwork of overlapping religious and ethnic groups. In significant parts of the region, Kurds are not the majority. So the idea of forming a Kurdish state there is not realistic and would be met with popular disapproval. The SDF and YPG know this. In areas under their control, they have made it clear that Kurdish separatism was not their aim and that the Arab, Christian, Turkmen, Circassian, and other non-Kurdish communities there were equal partners in a political project that could reshape the area…

“In the long term, the U.S. withdrawal will undermine a political project that was making progress in addressing deadly cycles of violence in the Middle East. In the long (now set to be longer) Syrian civil war, no actor in the region had done better than the SDF and their civilian counterparts had done at getting buy-in from the communities that eventually came under their charge… Here we were not trying, as we tried in Iraq, to remake a Middle Eastern society into something it wasn’t. We were supporting, effectively, local partners who were addressing the most basic problems of their own society.”
Sam Sweeney, National Review

Get troll-free political news.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.