Turkey gives no guarantee


There is an interesting contradiction to Donald Trump. This is a president who revels in US power but at the same time has strong isolationist instincts. He has long railed against his country’s involvement in foreign wars. His surprise announcement last month that US troops would be pulled out immediately from Syria and the hints from his administration a similar Afghan drawdown was also on the cards were therefore in line with promises he had made during his campaign for the White House.

Yet Trump is also committed to the war against the international terrorists of Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS). That being the case, his Syrian decision was plain wrong. Daesh has not, as he claimed, been defeated in Syria. Therefore, this is not the moment to “bring the boys back home”.

The projection of US power is both military and economic. However much the President, along with many other ordinary Americans, may hate foreign entanglements, they have come about largely in support of Washington’s allies, especially in the Middle East.

The Syrian proclamation simply did not make sense on various levels beside the obvious one that the cancer of Daesh is alive and kicking and currently metastasizing into more traditional covert terrorist operations. It was a blunder because it left his allies in the anti-Daesh coalition stunned at the lack of consultation and anxious that the departure of the US military was clearly premature.

It was also a gross mistake domestically in that it brought about a rupture between the White House and the top generals whose ranks Trump had originally favored for what he saw as their no-nonsense, down-to-earth approach. His widely-respected Defense Secretary, retired Marine general Jim Mattis, quit in protest at the Syrian pull out. Defense Department chief of staff Rear Admiral Kevin Sweeney followed Mattis out the door as did Trump’s special envoy to the anti-Daesh coalition Brett McGurk.

It is clear that admitting being wrong does not come easily to Trump. However, looking at the wreckage of resignations and probably taking notice of the advice from his close allies in the region, Trump has rowed back on his original Syrian announcement. He has made the withdrawal conditional on Turkish assurances it will not strike at the Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters, among whom US troops have been embedded. He sent his National Security Adviser John Bolton to Turkey to extract such undertakings. He should have known better. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday that such a request was “unacceptable”. Turkish troops have already been attacking the YPG because Ankara fears an armed Kurdish presence on its Syrian border while it is already battling the Iraqi-Kurdish-backed PKK in Turkey itself.

Trump needs a rethink. Erdogan’s NATO-member Turkey is falling ever closer into the Russian orbit. Until Ankara came under international pressure to act against them, Daesh and other Islamist terrorists long enjoyed easy supply routes across Turkey. Erdogan, along with Qatar, strongly supports the Muslim Brotherhood and the MB in its turn is clearly the political mouthpiece of Islamist terror, not least in Libya and Egypt. YPG fighters have played a major role in driving Daesh into its last remaining lairs. This is doubtless why Erdogan would like to see Trump abandon them and why Trump must refuse.