Some Clarity on the US Withdrawal from Syria


October 10, 2019

Image credit: Public Domain,

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

Many in the media and some in the Congress are joining “ex-Pentagon” and “ex-State Department officials” complaining about the president’s decision to withdraw the tiny remaining US force from Syria.  They make it sound as though President Trump has given the Turks a green light to ethnically cleanse the newly-created Kurdish enclave in Northeastern Syria.

A little background is necessary to better understand what is going on.  Eastern Turkey is home to many Kurds, as are northern Iraq and northern Syria.  The Kurds in Turkey are Turkish citizens and with those rights comes an obligation to peacefully coexist with the ethnic Turk majority, to learn the language, and to respect the law.   But for years Kurdish elements have been at war with the Turkish state.  In the ’60s and early ’70s US servicemen serving in Turkey were murdered by the PKK – the Kurdish Communist Party – funded by the Kremlin.  But they were also routinely attacking Turkish security forces and towns and villages.  Those actions led our government to list the PKK as a terrorist organization.

Years ago, I attended Turkish language school in preparation for an assignment to Ankara, where I would interface with Turkish military and customs officials.  My Turkish teacher, who was attending university in Washington, D.C., told me of his country’s difficulties with its Kurdish insurgents and of its disdain for them and their supporters.

My job in Ankara involved recurring visits to US military units throughout the country and thus I got to see a lot of countryside.  It is as rugged as its people.  Turks are tough and they can be very stern with one another. And though I was aware of the brutality in Turkey’s history – against the Greeks, the Armenians, and others – I met and worked with many fine Turkish folks.  They may wear Western dress, although most seemed to be observant Sunni Muslims.

Turkey was invited to join NATO after the Iron Curtain fell and Stalin had made moves on Iran and Turkey.  President Truman responded firmly.  Earlier, Imperial Russia had recurring designs on Turkey, resulting in sporadic fighting over the decades.  When the North Koreans attacked their southern neighbors in the early ’50s, the Turks were among the first NATO members to join the US against the invading communists.

Against this background, recall that one of the promises President Trump made during his campaign was to get US troops home and limit, if not end, our involvement in the muddled Middle East.  An aspect of his job that is most difficult is writing to the parents or wives of US servicemen who die in combat.  And with the defeat of ISIS, and a lot of “players” vying to protect their positions and maybe add to them by divvying up the carcass of what was Syria, the president thought this was a good time to step back so as not to get embroiled in the competition among the Russians, the Turks, the Kurds, and the Iranians whose interests differ significantly.

The Russians have been there for years, establishing a base for aircraft and naval vessels.  The Iranians want an unimpeded pathway through Syria to their client state in Lebanon and seem to be anxious to increase their leverage and influence on the region at the expense of their neighbors.  Moreover, the Iranians are the self-acclaimed protectors of the Shia Muslim minorities throughout the Middle East and beyond.  Finally, the Turks want a buffer on their southern border (Northern Syria) in which to house (contain) refugees displaced by the way in Syria.  And the buffer can also help guard against Iranian poaching on Sunni-Turkish influence.

So, where are America’s interests in all of this?  Whose side are we to take?  How could our remaining handful of US Special Forces make a difference?  What would be the tipping point that would force us to “protect our own” or some other larger group because one of the other major players wanted more than its share?  How many troops and how much resupply and body bags are we talking about here?

So, the hue and cry about our “abandonment” of our allies (which ones, in particular?) almost dominates the news coverage – (although it can’t yet quite shove “IMPEACHMENT” aside).   But here is the big question one doesn’t hear being asked:  Where in the heck are the Europeans?  Again, where in the heck are the Europeans?  This is in their back yard, and they are the ones dependent upon oil from the Middle East.  Notice that they FAILED to react recently when the Mullahs pirated one tanker and bombed another and then blew up an important petroleum center in Saudi Arabia.

Why are WE, the good old US of A, supposed to police this for Europe’s fat cats?  Have the media forgotten the “Apology Tour” that was roundly applauded when a previous president expressed our sorrow for having intervened not only in the Middle East but other places as well?

The Kurds and the Turks will work this out.  Peace is achieved when one side wins.  Truces are simply pauses to prepare for the next confrontation.  If this is a NATO concern, let NATO do something, and maybe we’ll join in.  But I’m glad our president made it clear that we are not going this alone!  Keep our troops safe.  Let them rejoin their families – intact!

Old Frank


One Response to "Some Clarity on the US Withdrawal from Syria"

  1. adam freeman   Friday, October 11, 2019 at 10:15 AM

    Correct and well said!

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