Syria and the Kurds — A Qui Bono
or Follow the Money
The President yesterday gave Turkey the green light to invade Syria and kill our loyal Kurdish allies along the Turkey-Syria border. It is as yet unclear what motivated him, but he is being roundly criticized in a highly unusual manner by many of his loyalist allies such as Lindsey Graham and Nikki Haley.
A qui bono is an old Latin saying that means “who benefits from this action”. My guess is the Russians who are in Syria propping up Assad, and ISIS who had been defeated by Kurdish militias. But who knows?
The Kurds fought and defeated ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. They have been our allies for at least the past 40 years.
They are an ancient people of the mountains (the Medes) who live in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey; they want their own homeland. They have been surrounded by and ruled by Turks, Arabs, and Persians for millennia.
They have their own autonomous region in northwestern Iraq; they have their own region in southeastern Turkey, but are highly persecuted there; they have their own region in northeastern Syria as well, which may now be attacked from the north by Turkey and the south by Assad. They are reasonably well integrated (or suppressed) in western Iran, the nation with which they share the closest ethnic heritage (do you remember the Medes and the Persians from ancient history). None of these nations are prepared to give up territory so that the Kurds can establish their own nation.
The Turks consider the Kurds terrorists because they would like regional autonomy, and they have fought for it; they comprise about 20% of the Turkish population, maybe more. They want to speak their own language and practice their own customs; they share the Islamic faith. There has been violence between Kurds and Turks for at least 100 years as the Kurds have sought independence or at least regional autonomy, and the Turkish state has practiced a secular Turkish nationalism and now an Islamist Turkish nationalism, giving little room for a separate Kurdish regional identity and autonomy.
Turkey is a member of NATO and a key US ally in the region. Turkey is home to many refugees from the Syrian Civil War. Turkey’s economy, which was robust and fast growing, has been troubled of late. Erdogan has grown increasingly autocratic as he has lost popular support. Erdogan is on shaky ground in Turkey due to recent electoral defeats in the big cities. Turkey, Russia and Iran have been trying for some time to find a way to bring an end to the Syrian civil war.
No one knows why Trump has given Turkey a green light. If you think back to the Clinton/Trump debates of 2016, he was skeptical then about US involvement in Syria and appeared to accept Assad’s eventual victory over the Sunni rebellion against his tyranny. Flynn and Giuliani in the past have been pushing Turkish points of view in their interactions with the President, trying to turn over a dissident Turkish cleric in political asylum in our country to his enemy, Erdogan, and there could very well be some deeper quid pro quo’s at play in the background than a simple weekend phone call between Trump and Erdogan. Coming on the heels of his Ukrainian phone debacle, there may be deeper motives at play. Trump has invited Erdogan to join him for a White House visit, an honor that was dangled for the new Ukrainian President. Trump operated against the advice of his State and Defense Departments and National Security Council in abandoning the Kurds. Trump is the Commander in Chief and acting within his constitutional powers, but Congress has the power of the purse to check him, if they are willing. This seems like a huge unforced error on his part; that has been known to happen (and not just with this President, remember the Iraq invasion, for example). It sends a terrible signal to abandon key allies in a highly volatile region, and it undermines our credibility with our allies all around the world.
This could set off new rounds of fighting and regional civil wars and give ISIS fertile ground for resurrection. The very last thing the Middle East needs is yet another round of regional fighting set off by Trump’s whims and erratic and uninformed and possibly corrupted decision-making.
Prepared by: Lucien Wulsin
PS: New information suggests that the President feels this precipitous withdrawal was made to fulfill a campaign promise, and yet there was no advance planning during the nearly three years of his presidency for this eventuality — an abhorrent and one might say nearly criminal level of executive irresponsibility and failure to perform the most basic tasks of his high office as commander in chief. You can agree on the basic goals of ending American involvement in endless Mideast regional wars, conflagrations for which we share some considerable responsibility for starting and stoking. How you draw down America’s role and build up the regional frameworks and bulwarks for peace is a statesman’s task for which our incurious and mercurial President is singularly unsuited.