Hundreds of thousands of Kurds, Syriac Christians and Arabs are fleeing Turkey’s bombs and ground forces that include hardcore Islamist ‘rebels.’
Those terrified families have nowhere to run. The US has thrown them to the wolves and openly betrayed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), leaving its military’s comrades-in-arms in the battle against Daesh to certain death at the hands of the second biggest army in NATO.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insists that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was not given a green light to ethnically cleanse a great swathe of the northern Syrian border and to exterminate Kurdish YPG fighters for the purpose of resettling up to two million Syrian refugees. His contention rings hollow.
The US troop withdrawal from the area was announced after a lengthy phone call between President Trump and Erdogan allegedly catching the Pentagon as well as many of Trump’s advisers on the hop, not to mention US allies.
I’ve been debating with several geopolitically astute individuals in recent days who suspect Trump’s decision was made in Israel’s favour in keeping with a grand neoconservative/Israeli plan to carve up the Middle East into manageable bite-sized entities but that premise doesn’t fly in this particular instance when America’s unorthodox commander-in-chief alters his positions according to his prevailing mood with little consideration of complexities or consequences.
More likely, the US president chose to do his Turkish buddy a favour while diverting the media from his troubles at home and at the same time hoping to attract voters by bringing their boys home. Reports suggest that US troops remaining in the area are disturbed at being told to look the other way.
A leaked transcript of a meeting between an SDF commander General Mazloum Kobani and a top US official obtained by CNN makes painful reading.
“You are leaving us to be slaughtered,” said Kobani. “You have given up on us. You are not willing to protect the people and you do not want another force to protect us. This is immoral. I need to know if you are capable of protecting my people, of stopping those bombs falling on us or not. I need to know because if you are not, I need to make a deal with Russia and the regime and invite their airplanes to protect this region”.
And that is exactly what he has done. As I write, convoys of regime soldiers are heading to the area to confront the Turkish forces according to Syrian state media.
Now under a barrage of condemnation from bipartisan members of Congress, evangelical pastors that were counted among his greatest supporters and America’s European allies, Trump has taken to criticising the offensive and warns Erdogan of dire consequences in the form of crippling sanctions should he cross as yet unspecified red lines.
However, his actions haven’t matched up. Last week, the US voted down a European condemnatory statement against the invasion and during a press conference Trump painted the Kurds as being self-serving and unworthy of US backing because they “didn’t help at Normandy” during the Second World War.
The draft UN statement was also vetoed by the Syrian government’s ally, Russia, which waited patiently for SDF leaders to make a defence deal cap-in-hand that would certainly end their dream of autonomy.
The outraged clamour from European heads of state and calls for Turkey to be kicked out of NATO appears to have been tempered by Erdogan’s threats.
Any European country that dares to describe his offensive as an occupation would open the floodgates for 3.6 million refugees to cross the Mediterranean, he warned. EU Council President Donald Tusk said Brussels “will never accept that refugees are weaponised and used to blackmail us.” Good, so how will the EU respond?
Members of the Arab League, with the exception of Qatar, are united. They call upon the UN Security Council to put an end to Turkey’s aggression against an Arab state and, moreover, will consider taking punitive actions impacting tourism, investment and military cooperation.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has also condemned the Turkish invasion and warns against the ethnic cleansing of “gallant Kurds” while offering ‘humanitarian’ assistance. Unfortunately, the domestically embattled Israeli warhorse whose tenure may be doomed no longer retains sway over the White House. Trump has no time for losers.
In the meantime, Erdogan is undeterred. Protected by NATO’s defence pact and with the US president remaining in his camp, half-heartedly or otherwise, he felt unstoppable in his quest to destroy the YPG and to offload millions of refugees from Turkish soil oblivious to his creation of a new refugee wave. The regime intervention backed by Russia may give him pause for thought.
Unless the United States succeeds in reining in Erdogan, its credibility with its allies, particularly those who depend on America for their defence, will be shattered.
Even Israelis are now asking ‘who’s next, it could be us’ according to Israeli media reports. Next time the US needs local ground forces to help wage its conflicts it will be hard pressed to find takers.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.