Don­ald Trump joins a long tra­di­tion of lead­ers by be­tray­ing the Kurds again

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION - Gwynne Dyer

Every­body be­trays the Kurds. It’s an old Mid­dle East­ern tra­di­tion. But given Don­ald Trump’s rep­u­ta­tion for treach­ery, it’s as­ton­ish­ing how bad he is at it.

This par­tic­u­lar be­trayal got underway on Sun­day night. Af­ter a tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion with Turkey’s strong­man pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, Trump de­clared that he had started pulling Amer­i­can troops out of Syria. It’s time for U.S. forces “to get out of these ridicu­lous End­less Wars, many of them tribal,” he tweeted.

Did Trump re­al­ize that he was ef­fec­tively giv­ing Turkey per­mis­sion to in­vade north­ern Syria and ex­pel the Syr­ian Kurds from their homes? His own of­fi­cials pa­tiently ex­plained that to him last De­cem­ber when he tried the same stunt for the first time, but maybe he for­got.

So they re­minded him again, and by lunchtime Mon­day Trump had changed his tune a bit. “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,” he tweeted.

But Trump did not ex­plain ex­actly what was ‘off lim­its’. Did the Turk­ish pres­i­dent have a green light to in­vade north­ern Syria, or not? Er­do­gan is go­ing ahead with the op­er­a­tion any­way, as­sum­ing that Trump’s threats are just the usual empty bel­liger­ence and blus­ter. It’s a safe as­sump­tion.

The weird thing is that Don­ald Trump’s ba­sic at­ti­tude to wars in far places is pretty sound. Don’t in­vade Iraq. (Wrong en­emy.) Don’t have a war with North Korea over nu­clear weapons. (Make a deal.) Get Amer­i­can troops out of the Mid­dle East. (Duh.) The prob­lem is in the ex­e­cu­tion.

We saw it two weeks ago when Trump, hav­ing de­cided to pull Amer­i­can troops out of Afghanista­n and sell his Afghan al­lies down the river, changed his mind at the last minute and can­celled a planned meet­ing at Camp David to sign a deal with the Tal­iban.

Call­ing Trump ‘trans­ac­tional’ is just a po­lite way of say­ing that he has no long-term strat­egy at all. He doesn’t even un­der­stand that his ad­ver­saries of­ten do have such strate­gies, so they run cir­cles around him.

Er­do­gan’s strat­egy is quite clear. He says he is go­ing to cre­ate a ‘safe zone’ in north­ern Syria by driv­ing the ‘Kur­dish ter­ror­ists’ out. It will be 480 km long and 30 km deep (three times the size of Prince Ed­ward Is­land), and in this strip just south of the Turk­ish bor­der he will ‘re­set­tle’ 2 mil­lion Syr­ian Arabs, more than half of the Syr­ian refugees now liv­ing in Turkey.

How­ever, this plan sounds quite dif­fer­ent when you trans­late it into plain English. The zone in ques­tion is al­ready safe for the Kur­dish peo­ple who live there and the Arab mi­nor­ity who live along­side them, be­cause they de­feated the Is­lamic State ex­trem­ists who were try­ing to con­quer it. There are no ter­ror­ists there now.

The army that de­stroyed Is­lamic State was an al­liance be­tween the Syr­ian Kur­dish group called the YPG and some smaller Arab mili­tias in the re­gion. It fought in close al­liance with the United States and lost more than 10,000 killed. (Only seven Amer­i­can sol­diers were killed in ac­tion in Syria.) It has now re­stored peace through­out the area, and there were no at­tacks on Turkey at any point in the war.

Er­do­gan’s aim is to drive all the Kurds liv­ing within 30 km of the bor­der out of their homes and re­place them with Ara­bic-speak­ing Syr­ian refugees. Al­most all of those refugees will be from else­where in Syria, but they won’t get any choice in the mat­ter ei­ther.

Why is Er­do­gan do­ing this? Be­cause it will greatly shrink the num­ber of Arab refugees in Turkey and be­cause, hav­ing falsely por­trayed the Syr­ian Kurds to his own supporters as a se­cu­rity threat, he can then claim credit for hav­ing solved the prob­lem. It’s bru­tal and im­moral, but it’s sound politics.

What can the Syr­ian Kurds do to save them­selves? They will have a brief op­por­tu­nity in the next week or two, af­ter U.S. troops have left the ‘safe zone’ and be­fore the Turks have es­tab­lished con­trol.

If the Syr­ian Kurds can hold off the Turks for a few days, and mean­while in­vite Bashar al-As­sad’s gov­ern­ment in Da­m­as­cus to re­oc­cupy what is, af­ter all, sov­er­eign Syr­ian ter­ri­tory, the Turk­ish in­va­sion might ac­tu­ally stall.

It would only work if the Rus­sians are will­ing to back that strat­egy, which is doubt­ful. But the Syr­ian Kurds have al­most cer­tainly been talk­ing to Da­m­as­cus about this idea al­ready, be­cause they could see Trump’s be­trayal com­ing a mile off.

The Kurds could prob­a­bly still get a fairly good deal on lo­cal au­ton­omy from Da­m­as­cus at this point — and As­sad, for all his faults, is much like­lier to stick to a deal once he makes it than Trump is.

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is ‘Grow­ing Pains: The Fu­ture of Democ­racy (and Work)’.

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