News & Politics

Bolton: No U.S. Withdrawal from Syria Without Deal to Protect Kurds

Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations and current National Security Advisor John Bolton (Rex Features via AP Images)

National Security Advisor John Bolton told reporters during his visit to Jerusalem that the U.S. would not totally withdraw its troops from Syria until a deal with Turkey had been reached to protect the Kurds. Bolton is in Jerusalem to reassure Israel in the wake of Donald Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would withdraw its 2200 soldiers from Syria.

Bolton’s statement adds more confusion to the president’s ever-evolving Syria policy.

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“We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States at a minimum, so they don’t endanger our troops,” Bolton said on Sunday. In addition, Turkey must “meet the president’s requirement that the Syrian opposition forces that have fought with us are not endangered.

Bolton added that Trump is fully committed to the fight against terror, and as such “wants the ISIS caliphate destroyed.” On Monday, the White House’s top national security official is expected to travel to Turkey for talks with Turkish officials about their aims and capabilities in combating IS.

Is Trump backing off his pledge to withdraw? The chances of Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan agreeing not to attack Kurdish forces in Syria are slim. Erdogan sees all Kurdish forces as terrorists and cannot be expected to back off his pledge to attack them.

So it appears that at least some U.S. forces will remain.

Trump defended his decision on the conviction that other countries should take on the burden of fighting whatever remains of IS, and has made tentative agreements with Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan to essentially hand over the job to the Turks. Erdogan has promised that his forces, along with their own allied Syrian fighters, will take up the anti-IS fight — a promise viewed with suspicion by critics who think Erdogan could attack the Kurds anew once the U.S. departs.

Bolton will go to Turkey looking to convince Erdogan not to attack the Kurds. But the Kurds, realizing they would be virtually alone if the U.S. departs, have actually started to engage with the Assad government to find a protector:

Fear of a Turkish assault has prompted the Kurds to increase their engagement with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, who they see as potentially providing them protection from the Turks. Security experts also fear that a Turkish offensive would distract the Kurds from their continued battle against ISIS.

This is an act of desperation by the Kurds since Assad will never agree to one of the Kurds’ primary goals: an autonomous region they can call home in Syria.

Trump’s Syria policy was made without consulting the departments of Defense or State, and certainly not our allies in the region. It doesn’t matter whether you believe the decision to withdraw itself is right or wrong. It was a massive error not to coordinate the decision with allies who are going to be directly affected by the president’s decision.