“In an extraordinary Sunday night statement, the White House announces that the US ‘will no longer be in the immediate area’ of Northern Syria, allow Turkey to launch an invasion in the region and give Turkey responsibility for captured ISIS fighters in the area,” NBC News reported. There were immediate accusations that the Trump administration had greenlighted a Turkish offensive against the Kurds. It is not clear as of this writing how deep the U.S. troop withdrawal from the Kurdish front line will be. The NYT reported that “it was unclear how extensive the Turkish operation would be, or whether Turkish forces would clash with the American-backed Kurds.”
Mr. Erdogan has demanded a “safe zone” for his nation to run 20 miles deep and 300 miles along the Turkish-Syrian border east of the Euphrates. That area, he has said, would be reserved for the return of at least a million Syrian refugees now inside Turkey. Mr. Erdogan has threatened to send a wave of Syrian migrants to Europe instead if the international community does not support the initiative to send them back to Syria.
Since early August, the American and Turkish militaries have been working together on a series of confidence-building measures — including joint reconnaissance flights and ground patrols — in a 75-mile-long strip of that 300-mile border area.
American-backed Kurdish forces have pulled back several miles and destroyed fortifications in that area. The pace of these operations has not been fast enough for Mr. Erdogan, and last week he began indicating that he planned to launch an incursion across the border. …
American officials contacted late Sunday would not say how far back from the Turkish border American troops would redeploy, or whether this signals the beginning of a larger overall withdrawal of the 1,000 American troops now in northeast Syria conducting and supporting counterterrorism operations.
Former Navy Seal and Texas Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw pointed out the shielding nature of U.S. forces. “Our small & cost-effective force in Northern Syria plays an important role in maintaining stability and the upper hand on ISIS. Allowing the Turkish military to take the territory risks igniting more fighting and destabilization. We should not be making this decision so abruptly.”
Until the recent announcement, the end game in Syria lapsed into a news backwater. Trump’s recent decision brought the question of the region’s future to life after a long hibernation. As former official Brett McGurk put it, there was no urgency till now. “The United States did not partner with SDF over realistic alternatives. Both Obama and Trump developed and considered options to work with the Turkey-backed opposition, which is unfortunately riddled with extremists, many tied to al Qaeda. Nonetheless, our best military planners spent months with counterparts in Turkey across both administrations. The only available Turkey-approved option in NE Syria would have required tens of thousands of American troops. Two U.S. presidents rejected that option.”
With the Arab Spring and political opposition to OIF ending the hope of “bringing democracy to the Middle East,” some sort of repartition of the region, a redrawing of boundaries, seems the sole alternative. In fact, the Obama administration considered this option but failed. In early 2016 Foreign Policy wrote:
Syria’s borders, of course, were famously drawn in the early part of the last century, as the “sick man of Europe” — the Ottoman Empire — collapsed after World War I. Syria is not a long-standing civilization like Persia (today’s Iran), Turkey, or Greece. Part of the reasons it has descended into chaos (along with the brutal actions of the Assad regime, water scarcity problems, and the general upheaval of the Arab Spring) is that it is already divided along religious and ethnic lines.
Some observers have taken an initial look at a partition, which would probably include an Alawite region around Damascus, running to the sea, ruled by the Assad regime or its follow-on leaders. It would also have a central portion that hopefully over time would be run by a moderate Sunni regime, obviously after subduing the Islamic State and various al Qaeda factions. Finally, and most controversially, it might include a Kurdish enclave in the east.
Joe Biden even proposed a partition of Iraq in 2006. “The senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee proposed Monday that Iraq be divided into three separate regions — Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni — with a central government in Baghdad. In an op-ed essay in Monday’s edition of The New York Times, Sen. Joseph Biden. D-Del., wrote that the idea ‘is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group … room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests.’”
With Turkey’s entry, we are perhaps witnessing the de facto partition of Syria with Kurdish borders dependent — if any are preserved — on how far the U.S. will pull back and what line they are willing to defend. But a stand-fast solution would require generational political will and “boots on the ground. It will entail confronting a NATO ally and it won’t be free. The question is whether the public is willing to pay.
The ambiguous attitude of American politics toward Syria is underscored by an Atlantic article arguing that Trump’s 2017 missile strike on Assad’s chemical weapons was unconstitutional. “Under the Constitution and the War Powers Act, the president has no authority to send military forces into hostilities except after congressional authorization or in response to a direct attack on the U.S. or its forces. The president has no inherent power over war; it is given to Congress.”
The nation is of two minds about Syria, which is why the U.S. authority to be there is questioned by the Democrats. It would be ludicrous to argue it is unconstitutional to fire missiles at Assad while assuming the same authority compels the U.S. to defend the Kurds. Partisan paralysis in the aftermath of Iraq is at least partly to blame for the current crisis. There’s got to be a middle ground between having nothing to do with the Middle East and being the world fixer, but finding that balance point is beyond bipartisan capabilities now.
If America midwifes a Kurdistan, it must see it through, for it may only be popular in the first weeks. Kurdistan could be a “future Israel,” whose origin will be America’s eternal crime in future Left-wing history. As Brandon Weichert noted, partitions create centuries-long enmities. “Like so many oppressed ethnic minorities before them, the Kurds have long envisaged their own country. Unfortunately, partitioning the requisite territory for creating such an independent state would mean disaster. (After all, the partitioning of India, of the Mandate of Palestine, and Sudan have led to nothing but trouble for the world.)”
Turkey, Iran, and Iraq may never forgive the USA for an independent Kurdistan any more than the Left will forgive it for Israel. Yet Israel’s moral claim to nationhood is at least as strong as the Kurds and look how much praise America got for that. But that comes with the turf. Part of the cost of being a great power is that it’s always the hegemon’s fault. In a way, that makes it easy. Congress should debate the Kurdish question, do the right thing by American self-interest and morality — whatever that may be — and to hell with the criticism.
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ALSO: My opinion piece at the Wall Street Journal on what lights up the soul. Well, it’s a surprise. Man does not live by 5-year plans alone.
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