The real U.S./Turkey strategic endgame — Iran
By Mark Alexander
Formulating foreign policy and military strategy is akin to a complex multi-dimensional chess match — except the objectives are rarely black and white, and the targets are constantly moving. That is especially true in the Long War against what we label "Jihadistan" — the borderless nation of Islamic extremists.
That notwithstanding, the mass media portrays policy and strategy as a simple game of checkers, primarily because most "journalists" aren't equipped to understand even the most rudimentary elements of such complexities. Thus, they just regurgitate the same predictable themes, spinning it to comport with their leftist editorial objectives.
In the case of Donald Trump, as you well know, the overwhelming spin of the Leftmedia propagandists is directed toward undermining his administration's policies at every turn, with the objective of ensuring, at all costs, that he doesn't win reelection in 2020.
So, what to make of the MSM spin on Trump, Turkey, and Syria?
First, let me state unequivocally: I really detest diplomacy by Twitter — especially where American lives and our national interests are at stake. There is no way for President Trump — or anyone else — to convey the complexity of such decisions with a few keystrokes. While Trump's use of social media is often much more calculated and cleverer than it appears, sometimes it misses the mark. Such was the case with his announcement on 6 October that we were withdrawing our small force of military advisers and security personnel from the Syrian border with Turkey, where the Kurdish YPG militia has been operating.
Our own military analyst, Charles Paige, a former Marine officer with multiple combat tours in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, criticized the president's method of announcing this policy shift as "not the forum to outline a coherent military or national security strategy."
As was subsequently clarified in more detail by the administration: "Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria. The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial 'Caliphate,' will no longer be in the immediate area. ... Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial 'Caliphate' by the United States."
Turkey rightly classifies the YPG as terrorists, and there has been generational tribal bloodshed back and forth between the Islamic Turks and the Islamic Iraqi/Syrian Kurdish factions. Turkey was not going to tolerate the establishment of a YPG Kurd autonomous zone on its southern border, given their alliance with PKK Kurdish separatists within Turkey. But those are the same Kurdish factions that aligned themselves with U.S. forces endeavoring to destroy most of the ISIS strongholds in northern Syria.
In effect, Trump gave Turkey's autocratic president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a green light to move against the Kurds. But the sequence of events is important. According to our sources, Trump did so only after Erdogan advised him that Turkey would no longer delay securing its border with Syria, and if the U.S. opposed military operations to move the Kurds out and resettle more than a million Syrian refugees now in Turkey, that would threaten significant military agreements between Turkey and the U.S.
For its part, Turkey provides the U.S. with strategic airbase access, which will be essential in any regional operations, most notably those against Iran. And, of course, we have nuclear weapons in Turkey as part of our deterrence against Russian ambitions.
To this point, the small number of U.S. military personnel in the region have served effectively as "human shields" for the Kurds, because any strike by Turkey against their perennial enemy that collaterally injured or killed Americans would dramatically redefine the tenuous love/hate relationship between Turkey and the U.S. Neither country wants its strategic alliance with a NATO partner to disintegrate.
Contrary to Trump's social-media insistence that the rationale for removing military personnel shielding the Kurds was about ending endless wars, at the same time we were withdrawing those advisers, the Pentagon was moving 3,000 more American troops into Saudi Arabia. And we've increased our overall military presence in the Middle East by 14,000 troops since May. We still have some 1,000 military personnel, including many special operators, in Syria.
In other words, there exists a more pressing but unmentioned objective: containing or eliminating the Iranian nuclear threat in which this most notable state sponsor of terrorism provides a fissile weapon or weapons to Islamic terrorists, who then deploy it against the United States. That threat became much more real after the so-called "Nuke Deal" cut by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry.
To better understand the regional complexities, historian and Hoover Institution fellow Victor Davis Hanson offered a concise and constructive analysis, "Kurdish, Syrian, and Turkish Ironies," in which he observes: "If all Trump has done for now is to remove a few dozen Americans from a 'trip wire' deployment between the two belligerents, he can hardly have 'sold out' the Kurds. Otherwise, our presence in the firing line could raise the specter that we'd either refuse our Article V (collective defense) commitments to Turkey that Erdogan might cynically invoke in a larger war in Syria, or we'd find ourselves actually killing Turks to save Kurds. Either of these scenarios is theoretically quite possible, and both would be far more injurious to the spirit and cohesion of the presently composed NATO alliance than asking Germany and its followers to pony up the contributions that they had long promised."
However, by carelessly overstating his motives by way of social media, Trump set himself up for a storm of criticism from both Right and Left.
As I wrote shortly after Trump took office in 2017: "The day he arrived in DC, he dropped a bomb on the status quo in Congress and its special interests. He dropped a bomb on the regulatory behemoths and their bureaucratic bottlenecks. He dropped a bomb on the trade and national security institutions and alliances that failed miserably over the previous eight years. And he dropped a bomb on all the pundits and mainstream media outlets."
When you've antagonized all those powerful entities, you should choose your words with more care. The same personality that's brash enough to drop those bombs is brash enough to, as I also noted in 2017, issue an endless stream of stupid comments, including one about former Secretary of Defense James Mattis being "overrated."
I would add that, in my estimation, the temporary ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurds announced by Vice President Mike Pence was in the works before Trump's troop withdrawal was announced. And Trump has now announced a "permanent ceasefire" — if there is any such thing in the Middle East.
As for Democrat objections, given that Congress has abdicated its "war powers" in regard to our military operations in Syria, perhaps President Trump should challenge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call a vote and authorize any further presence in the region. Of course, that would've had to wait for her return from Syria, where she spent the weekend stirring the pot.
Recall that a decade ago, when San Fran Nan last embarked on such a foray, she met with Syria's Bashar al-Assad and hailed him as the key to peace in the region. "The road to peace is through Damascus," she declared, prompting even The Washington Post to classify her "pratfall in Damascus" as both "counterproductive" and "foolish."
Again, for the record, the overarching strategic endgame regarding Turkey and the Kurds is Iranian deterrence. The consequences of decisions to accommodate the greater national interests often involves compromise of lesser interests. But don't wait on that assessment from the MSM talkingheads.
Mark Alexander is the executive editor of the Patriot Post.