A Serious Geopolitical Mistake Of President Donald Trump

By Atilio Molteni Ambassador


The United States has just done what is necessary to lose the compass and decision power in one of the hottest and most strategic areas of the planet. On October 6, after a conversation between Presidents Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, the first of them announced without further procedure the withdrawal of special troops and support for the fight against terrorism that were stationed in The northeast of Syria. By accepting without detailed analysis and reflection the geopolitical objectives of his peculiar Turkish ally, Trump did not notice the dramatic consequences of that option, nor did he take into account the warnings of his advisors and the Secretary of Defense of his country. He simply abandoned the Syrian Kurds who cooperated with US forces since 2014 in the fight to defeat the savage terrorists of the State or Islamic Emirate (IS). At the time of choosing, the Head of the White House ignored his great effectiveness and sacrifice, the loss of 11,000 of his soldiers in the fight to control the region that those jihadists had occupied in Syria and the emptiness they will leave when they stop attending the surveillance of the captured terrorists.

Trump's decision also left his allies open-mouthed. Both the European countries that had been supporting these actions, as well as the governments of Israel and Saudi Arabia, were clear that giving the Turkish president a white letter in his actions against the Kurds, was the serious impairment of US leadership in that part of the planet, consolidating the dangerous regime of Syrian Bashar Al-Assad and facilitate the assertive presence of Iran and Russia in the region.

The Tehran government invested many millions of dollars in support of the Damascus regime and deployed around 60,000 mercenaries in the area. Moscow prevented the approval of concerted actions in the UN Security Council and granted visible military assistance (air support and 5,000 soldiers) to protect the air bases and the port of Tartus.

For his part, the autocratic Erdogan, who came to power in 2003 as Prime Minister, struggles to review now the notions that led to forgetting the intention of combining the imperial tradition of the ancient sultans in Turkey and the reflexes that General Ataturk installed, which since the beginning of the 20th century set out to generate with a strong hand a modern, secular country and willing to integrate with the nations of Europe. Erdogan's current political project stands out for the insertion of nationalist, conservative and Islamic components designed to neutralize dissident forces and silence the normal exercise of press freedom in the country. Such conduct distanced him from his Western allies and froze sine die the old Turkish aspiration to enter the European Union (EU).

Relations with the United States are no less rapid. Despite its status as a NATO Member country and that Washington maintains the presence of bases in Turkey such as Incirlik, in the south of the country, where nuclear-powered airplanes operate, dialogue is difficult and plagued by disturbing silences. That scenario was evident when the Ankara government decided to buy the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system, which resulted in the United States applying strategic reprisals and immediately canceling the delivery of new F-35 fighter jets.

Trump's new decision was only inspired by the goal of putting into practice the desire to end at once with any American military presence in the Middle East that does not have explicit and voluntary consensus of local governments. The idea or objective is to bring home the balances, even though the situation in Syria is not equivalent to the intervention in Afghanistan or the unilateral war that took place in Iraq (2003).

The case in debate today meant a green light so that three days after the presidential telephone dialogue, the Turkish government began an offensive over northeastern Syria, facing the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in that operation, whose nucleus receives assistance from Kurdish militias of the People's Protection Forces (YPG). For Erdogan, such forces are linked to the Turkestan Workers Party (PKK), which he considers a terrorist (and separatist) group, a qualification recognized by the United States since 1997. But the civil war in Syria and the strong consolidation of the IS in that area of ‚Äč‚Äčthe world, gave rise to a new strategic situation when Barack Obama organized an international coalition to overcome such an outrage and defeat the alleged Caliphate that was installed in the region by force, a move that received the support of the Kurds.

That group never managed to establish its own State as a result of the post-World War I negotiations, which explains why its inhabitants were distributed throughout Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey. In that last country, the Kurdish population represents 20% of the total population.

Following the failure of the peace talks between the PKK and the Turkish Government in 2015, the internal confrontation increased. Such a scenario, spurred by Kurdish terrorism, caused Erdogan to restore the balance of power by appealing to strong measures. One of their basic concerns is the virtual connection of territorial power that the Syrian Kurds reached with the Turkish Kurds, in an extensive area that they call Rojaba, which for the Turkish president is a terrorist corridor.

For this reason, the actions of the Ankara army and the Syrian militias that are addicted to it, try to establish a 32-kilometer security zone along the border to Iraq, which could also be the beginning of a major military action and a permanent presence in northeastern Syria. In turn, the Turkish purpose would be to settle there one million of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in that country, which in practice means the displacement of the Kurds, because there are their most important cities.

This decision, announced long ago by Ankara, involved opening a new front in the Syrian civil war, which has been going on for eight years, generated more than 500,000 victims and millions of internal and international refugees, which did not prevent the consolidation of the regime Al-Assad with the support of Iran and Russia. Now such a trend benefits from the simultaneous Turkish attack and the US withdrawal, a scenario that induced the Kurds to ask for help from the Damascus regime.

Until Trump's decision, US troops and air media played the role of a stabilizing force. In December 2018, the White House had anticipated that it would withdraw its 2,000 soldiers from Syria, which led to the resignation of the then Secretary of Defense, General, James Mattis. But that withdrawal ended up being partial, since the governments of Washington and Ankara failed to coordinate an adequate security mechanism. Erdogan intended to define who would be in charge of the patrols and what would be the consequences of the situation on the ground, because the IS never ceased to be a real danger.

The improvised withdrawal of US troops decided by Trump motivated severe criticism of the congressmen to the assent granted, as there were reasons to estimate a worsening of the regional situation, in a very rare and conflict environment due to the start of the political trial that currently It is managed in the House of Representatives.

Trump's reaction was to resort again to the use of his tweets in which, after qualifying the Turkish offensive as a bad idea, he threatened to destroy the economy of that country with serious sanctions if his government violated the humanitarian principles of minorities and civil society. That route was not successful. On October 16, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution condemning the withdrawal of troops, which called for the support of the 250 Democratic legislators and 129 Republican legislators. Only 60 voted against this decision, which isolated without turning the White House. In addition, Trump confronted Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and argued that the Kurds "were not angels and could defend themselves."

In parallel he urgently sent Turkey to Vice President Mike Pence, who on October 17 negotiated with Erdogan a military presence in that country in northeastern Syria in exchange for a five-day ceasefire and the lifting of US sanctions (which Turks immediately interpreted only as a break in operations). Observers believe that Ankara got everything she wanted.

One of the urgent problems of the international community is to determine who will be in charge of the control of the jihadist prison camps (about 11,000, of which 2,000 come from different countries and together with their families are 70,000 people), a task that they currently fulfill Kurdish forces That responsibility experienced a great deterioration, because the trustees must now face a new enemy and many chose to leave their posts. All participants know that, although the territorial caliphate of EI was defeated, that terrorist project is not completely dissolved. This precipitous regrouping of forces poses an offensive and highly dangerous risk. No one, even Trump, can forget the point.



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