When President Trump tweeted out his plan to pull American troops out of Syria, no one was happier than Bashar-al-Assad and Erdogan. For Assad, it meant no threat to his power from the United States. Yes, there might be aerial bombardments but there is no threat of ground invasion to the heartbreak of John Bolton.
Russia and Iran could help him stay indefinitely in power as long as Assad allows Russian and Iranian boots on the Syrian soil and blocks an oil pipeline to mainland Europe from the Gulf nations.
For Erdogan, the pull out of US forces means he can go after the Kurdish militia, YPG, who yearn for a state of their own. Turkey alleges that YPG is just an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party or the PKK. Although the US claims YPG as a partner against ISIS, they have been carving areas out for themselves.
Rather than free areas from ISIS control, YPG is merely taking over the territory that ISIS previously held. This has lead to some non-Kurdish areas being dominated by the YPG. It was the aim of the US policy in that region, to break up Syria and control it through militant proxy forces. The idea that the US wants to protect the Kurds and cares about them is laughable.
In 1988, back when Saddam Hussein was a strategic partner of the United States, he carried out a chemical attack much worse than any by the Assad regime. The victims were 5000 Kurds, most of them women and children, in the northern town of Halabja. Just years later, George Bush Sr. would invite Iraqi nuclear scientists to come to the United States to learn to develop nuclear weapons.
The Kurdish people suffered a lot more under the US-backed Saddam regime than Iranian-backed Syria. This is not to downplay the suffering of the Kurds at the hands of Turkey and Syria but it goes to decipher the real aims of US foreign policy.
American forces will not leave Syria or Iraq for the same reason they are stationed in Germany 74 years after the WWII ended. US forces don’t leave a military post once they have occupied it. So when John Bolton or Senator Lindsey Graham wants to ‘slow down’ the troop pullout, protecting the Kurds is not their primary concern. They just want to wait out the Presidency until an establishment-friendly politician occupies the Oval Office again.
But things are not that simple. The United States faces strategic obstacles due to the utter failure that was the NATO invasion of Afghanistan. There are political as well as strategic implications of the situation in Afghanistan. The Afghan war has caused the US to spread its’ defenses thin and balloon the national debt.
For these reasons, the Afghan war has remained a campaign issue in Presidential and even Congressional races. There is no debate on the loss of human life, just the financial implications of it.
How the US manages the Afghan war matters. If 350,000 NATO troops couldn’t fight a few thousand ragheads, what chance do they have against Russian missiles that travel at 20 times the speed of sound?
Thus it is more important for the US to hide the failures of the Afghan war than Syria or Iraq. On both fronts, the US is engaged in negotiations. On the Syrian front, they are trying to strike out a deal with Turkey to ‘protect the Kurds’ when actually the US just wants to control the territory through a militant proxy force.
On the Afghan front, they are in talks with the Taliban through Pakistan. The problem is that Pakistan and Turkey have close ties. Both countries have far-right leaders and have a similar worldview. Both countries are fighting domestic nationalists yearning for self-determination.
We got a glimpse of where Erdogan of Turkey and Imran Khan of Pakistan are headed last week when they met. All of the foreign visits by Imran Khan so far have been to ask for financial aid. He couldn’t have flown to Turkey to ask for financial assistance since Turkey’s economy itself is suffering under Erdogan. Turkey’s finance minister is Erdogan’s son-in-law, who knew nepotism wouldn’t work?
Like most things in Pakistan, the people did not know why their PM was taking an expensive trip to Turkey. The visit was only announced after Trump’s call for pullout met opposition. So it is obvious that Khan’s visit was strategic.
Right after Erdogan met Imran Khan, he made a speech in the Turkish Parliament. He rebuked the US out on its’ calls to protect Kurds. His tough remarks were expected but why did he wait so long to deliver them?
Trump’s pullout calls met opposition from the first day. But Erdogan waited till he had met Imran Khan of Pakistan to finally voice a rebuke.
Imran Khan and Erdogan are far-right politicians and their worldview is very much alike. They know that it is the US’ priority to negotiate with the Taliban to solve the Afghan crisis. Erdogan can leverage that to have an open season on the Kurds.
Taliban and Pakistan have similar regional aims so there is cooperation between the two. It gives Pakistan the power to thwart US negotiations with the Taliban for any reason they like. If Erdogan wants to pressurize the US to make their calls for protection of the Kurds only symbolic, Imran Khan can help him out.
Through Khan, Erdogan can destabilize the US negotiations with the Taliban to get his own way in Syria. Khan and Erdogan both have a far-right worldview and thus try to suppress secular nationalism.
Just last night there was a terrorist attack in Kabul that killed 4 people. As Turkey and US butt heads over military bases in Syria, Afghans might be the ones who find themselves in crossfires.
The US is not carrying out three separate negotiations with Turkey, Pakistan, and the Taliban. All three of these parties are on the same side and have the same far-right ideology. The aims of the US foreign policy aren’t noble either. But if the US pulls out of Syria after the ominous power vacuum they created, it will be a repeat of the mistakes from the Obama-era.