It may seem that the US president is finally addressing Turkey's security concerns but there is still no predicting what might come next.
Indeed, he may have turned a dangerous situation worse for Turkey in Syria, with his confusing and contradictory announcement on Sunday of a US troop pullout from the northeastern corner of the war-ravaged country.
After saying the US would no longer support SDF—a group dominated by YPG, the Syrian branch of the PKK terrorist organisation—Trump threatened millions of innocent Turkish people with the devastation of their economy if he feels like it.
“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!),” Trump tweeted Monday afternoon after the morning announcement.
Turkey “must, with Europe and others, watch over.......the captured ISIS fighters and families. The US has done far more than anyone could have ever expected, including the capture of 100% of the ISIS Caliphate. It is time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory. THE USA IS GREAT!”
Trump said he had lost interest in supporting the YPG, whose father organisation has fought a separatist war against Turkey for more than three decades, killing tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians.
There was perhaps an inevitability to the US backing away from the YPG, given Turkey's insistence on launching a military campaign against them and the fact that the US has stressed in the past that it was a ‘tactical alliance’.
The YPG cannot compete with billions of dollars in trade between Turkey and the US, nor the strategic importance of Turkey’s location in Eurasia. It was always a matter of time before the US “betrayed” them, whether it happened under Trump or his successor.
Indeed, after his provocative tweet yesterday, Trump turned around and praised Turkey with an early morning tweet Tuesday.
What was not inevitable was Trump deciding in such a chaotic way, using dehumanising language against Turks and Kurds, saying on Monday that the two ethnicities are "natural enemies." No two human beings are "natural enemies." His words, however, reflect a worldview that marks the lives of foreigners as expendable or irrelevant.
The lives of Kurdish and Turkish civilians the PKK threatens with indiscriminate violence, meanwhile, have been treated as disposable by Washington policymakers. For the Pentagon, their lives are easier to lose in the fight against Daesh than American lives. Trump, however, fused these two deeply offensive worldviews into just a single lying sentence.
“If you look at some of the Kurds that’s a natural enemy of Turkey, specifically, as I said, they have natural enemies. They’ve been fighting each other for hundreds of years. I mean one historian said they have been fighting for hundreds of years,” Trump said at a Monday evening press conference, unsurprisingly throwing out an ignorant falsehood about Turkish history.
The US and Turkey have been NATO allies for nearly seven decades, but, in the last four years, US congressional representatives and policymakers decided to side with Turkey’s enemies to defeat Daesh in Syria.
Policymakers in Ankara, some old enough to remember the US backing Turkey during the Cold War against Soviet-aligned PKK militants, understandably felt betrayed by this shift in Washington policy that imperilled the lives of Turkish citizens.
Daesh, meanwhile, remains undefeated, although Trump imagines it has been eliminated. Only two years into his presidency, hopeless tent cities and squalid prisons dot the Syrian desert filled with either Daesh captives, or their wives, widows, and children, rendered pariahs and outcasts. It is unethical to keep these human beings, some of them babies today, in camps in a warzone for the rest of their lives.
At the very least, captured Daesh fighters held by the SDF/YPG represent a huge problem for international humanitarian law. And it is one Trump is uninterested himself in solving. But it is a question that will, left answered, lead to the radicalisation of thousands of people, some still too young today to carry a rifle. But they won’t stay that young forever.
Again, the question becomes Turkey’s responsibility, although the US with its 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq set events in motion that would lead to this nightmarish problem. Where the neoconservatives made the world worse thanks to ignorance and arrogance; Trumpists are making the world worse thanks to racist disinterest in the fates of foreigners.
Withdrawing from Syria was not done in Turkey’s interest, but rather in Trump’s interest. He wants a headline that casts him as a winner, bringing US troops home, especially as an impeachment enquiry begins.
Ending America’s endless wars is necessary and good, but the reason for stopping them matters, too. Is it being done because it will make the US president look competent? Is it being done because the US president doesn’t care what happens afterwards?
It is not a coincidence that that Trump’s pullout was hailed Monday night by white supremacist Fox News host Tucker Carlson, a commentator so racist that his advertisers have fled in recent months, who once referred to Iraqis as “semi-literate primitive monkeys.”
“For once Americans are coming home from a Middle Eastern tar pit rather than staying forever and we ought to be celebrating that,” said Carlson.
And there is the most pathetic part of all this. There will be no ticker-tape parade down Broadway for the US forces coming home. The American people are so accustomed to war overseas that they can no longer tell the difference between their presence and absence. Trump will gain neither glory nor higher poll numbers, but will only serve to show why he is nobody’s friend. And certainly not Turkey’s.
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