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Contrary to media myth, Trump did not betray the Kurds

A bit of common sense and clear thinking amid the current hysteria, from Caroline Glick.

“Trump did not betray the Kurds,” by Caroline B. Glick, Israel Hayom, October 11, 2019:

The near-consensus view of US President Donald Trump’s decision to remove American special forces from the Syrian border with Turkey is that Trump is enabling a Turkish invasion and double-crossing the Syrian Kurds who have fought with the Americans for five years against the Islamic State group. Trump’s move, the thinking goes, harms US credibility and undermines US power in the region and throughout the world.

There are several problems with this narrative. The first is that it assumes that until this week, the US had power and influence in Syria when in fact, by design, the US went to great lengths to limit its ability to influence events there.

The war in Syria broke out in 2011 as a popular insurrection by Syrian Sunnis against the Iranian-sponsored regime of President Bashar Assad. The Obama administration responded by declaring US support for Assad’s overthrow. But the declaration was empty. The administration sat on its thumbs as the regime’s atrocities mounted. It supported a feckless Turkish effort to raise a resistance army dominated by jihadist elements aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood.

President Barack Obama infamously issued his “red line” regarding the use of chemical weapons against civilians by Assad, which he repudiated the moment it was crossed.

As ISIS forces gathered in Iraq and Syria, Obama shrugged them off as a “JV squad.” When the JVs in ISIS took over a third of Iraqi and Syrian territory, Obama did nothing.

As Lee Smith recalled in January in The New York Post, Obama only decided to do something about ISIS in late 2014 after the group beheaded a number of American journalists and posted their decapitations on social media.

The timing was problematic for Obama.

In 2014 Obama was negotiating his nuclear deal with Iran. The deal, falsely presented as a nonproliferation pact, actually enabled Iran – the world’s greatest state sponsor of terrorism – to develop both nuclear weapons and the missile systems required to deliver them. The true purpose of the deal was not to block Iran’s nuclear aspirations but to realign US Middle East policy away from the Sunnis and Israel and toward Iran.

Given its goal of embracing Iran, the Obama administration had no interest in harming Assad, Iran’s Syrian factotum. It had no interest in blocking Iran’s ally Russia from using the war in Syria as a means to reassert Moscow’s power in the Middle East.

As both Michael Doran, a former national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration and Smith argue, when Obama was finally compelled to act against ISIS, he structured the US campaign in a manner that would align it with Iran’s interests.

Obama’s decision to work with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in northern Syria because it was the only significant armed force outside the Iranian axis that enjoyed congenial relations with both Assad and Iran.

Obama deployed around a thousand forces to Syria. Their limited numbers and radically constrained mandate made it impossible for the Americans to have a major effect on events in the country. They weren’t allowed to act against Assad or Iran. They were tasked solely with fighting ISIS. Obama instituted draconian rules of engagement that made achieving even that limited goal all but impossible.

During his tenure as Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton hoped to revise the US mandate to enable US forces to be used against Iran in Syria. Bolton’s plan was strategically sound. Trump rejected it largely because it was a recipe for widening US involvement in Syria far beyond what the American public – and Trump himself – were willing to countenance.

In other words, the claim that the US has major influence in Syria is wrong. It does not have such influence and is unwilling to pay the price of developing such influence.

This brings us to the second flaw in the narrative about Trump’s removal of US forces from the Syrian border with Turkey.

The underlying assumption of the criticism is that America has an interest in confronting Turkey to protect the Kurds.

This misconception, like the misconception regarding US power and influence in Syria, is borne of a misunderstanding of Obama’s Middle East policies. Aside from ISIS’s direct victims, the major casualty of Obama’s deliberately feckless anti-ISIS campaign was the US alliance with Turkey. Whereas the US chose to work with the Kurds because they were supportive of Assad and Iran, the Turks view the Syrian Kurdish YPG as a sister militia to the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The Marxist PKK has been fighting a guerilla war against Turkey for decades. The State Department designates the PKK as a terrorist organization responsible for the death of thousands of Turkish nationals. Not surprisingly then, the Turks viewed the US-Kurdish collaboration against ISIS as an anti-Turkish campaign.

Throughout the years of US-Kurdish cooperation, many have made the case that the Kurds are a better ally to the US than Turkey. The case is compelling not merely because the Kurds have fought well.

Under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey has stood against the US and its interests far more often than it has stood with it. Across a spectrum of issues, from Israel to human rights, Hamas and ISIS to Turkish aggression against Cyprus, Greece, and Israel in the Eastern Mediterranean, to upholding US economic sanctions against Iran and beyond, for nearly 20 years, Erdoğan’s Turkey has distinguished itself as a strategic threat to America’s core interests and policies and those of its closest allies in the Middle East.

Despite the compelling, ever-growing body of evidence that the time has come to reassess US-Turkish ties, the Pentagon refuses to engage the issue. The Pentagon has rejected the suggestion that the US remove its nuclear weapons from Incirlik airbase in Turkey or diminish Incirlik’s centrality to US air operations in Central Asia and the Middle East. The same is true of US dependence on Turkish naval bases.

Given the Pentagon’s position, there is no chance that the US would consider entering an armed conflict with Turkey on behalf of the Kurds.

The Kurds are a tragic people. The Kurds, who live as persecuted minorities in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, have been denied the right of self-determination for the past hundred years. But then, the Kurds have squandered every opportunity they have had to assert independence. The closest they came to achieving self-determination was in Iraq in 2017. In Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurds have governed themselves effectively since 1992. In 2017, they overwhelmingly passed a referendum calling for Iraqi Kurdistan to secede from Iraq and form an independent state. Instead of joining forces to achieve their long-held dream, the Kurdish leaders in Iraq worked against one another. One faction, in alliance with Iran, blocked implementation of the referendum and then did nothing as Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk was overrun by Iraqi government forces.

The Kurds in Iraq are far more capable of defending themselves than the Kurds of Syria. Taking on the defense of Syria’s Kurds would commit the US to an open-ended presence in Syria and justify Turkish antagonism. America’s interests would not be advanced. They would be harmed, particularly in light of the YPG’s selling trait for Obama – its warm ties to Assad and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps….

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EDITORS NOTE: This Jihad Watch column is republished with permission. © All rights reserved.

Trump to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, says “I’m not siding with anybody”

It is foolish in the extreme, and ultimately self-defeating, to keep troops anywhere indefinitely, with no end point, no plan for victory, no clear goal — that just saps the nation’s resources and produces no good result. Anytime we leave Syria or anywhere else, anti-American elements will do their best to capitalize on our absence. But if the answer to this is to keep troops everywhere, then they will never come home, and we will need to send them into many more countries than those they’re currently in.

That way lies madness. And destruction. What is needed instead is a massive reevaluation of the basic assumptions of U.S. foreign policy, so that our energies, and our armed forces, are directed much more efficiently than they are now to blunting the force of the global jihad. We can hope that with the withdrawal from Syria, that reevaluation is on the horizon.

“Trump says he’s ‘not siding with anybody’ with Syria withdrawal,” by Kathryn Watson, CBS News, October 7, 2019:

Washington — President Trump didn’t let intense Republican criticism of his decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria rattle him Monday, insisting he made the right call in deciding to leave the unstable region to Turkey and other actors.

Experts and the president’s own allies like Senator Lindsey Graham fear the decision to withdraw from the region will endanger Kurdish allies there, with Turkey threatening to overwhelm them. Mr. Trump, asked why he’s siding with authoritarian Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over Kurdish allies, insisted he’s not siding with anyone and is adhering to his campaign promise of “America first.”

“I’m not siding with anybody. We’ve been in Syria for many years. You know, Syria was supposed to be a short-term hit,” the president said in the Roosevelt Room, where he signed two trade agreements with Japan.

The president said he’s leaving the region in the hands of Turkey, Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria — which is exactly what allies fear. Mr. Trump explained that he campaigned on pulling the U.S. out of needless wars in the Middle East, and noted the worst part of his job is writing to families of American soldiers who died….

EDITORS NOTE: This Jihad Watch column is republished with permission. © All rights reserved.

WARNING: The Turkey Trap — Erdogan thinks he can blackmail Trump

Turkish autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdogan is coming to Washington, DC, on May 16 loaded for bear.

He has an ambitious agenda and apparently feels he can achieve it all because he holds “trump” cards against the President of the United States.

Erdogan and his proxies have publicly said they want to convince the United States to jettison its budding alliance with the Syrian Democratic Union (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish group that has become the tip of the spear in the fight against ISIS in Syria.

On this point, they will encounter resistance from the U.S. military, which sent a U.S. U.S. Marines Stryker group into northern Syria recently to serve as a buffer between Turkish and Kurdish forces after the Turkish air force conducted air strikes that killed twenty of the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters.

Erdogan can be expected once again to trot out “evidence” that the Syrian Kurds and their Iranian allies, known as PJAK, are puppets of the PKK, the Kurdish group that waged war against the Turkish state for 15 years before entering into negotiations in 1999.

Both the United States and the European Union consider the PKK a terrorist organization, while recognizing that the Syrian and Iranian Kurds have separate command structures. Neither the YPG nor PJAK has joined the PKK in military operations inside Turkey.

But Erdogan has more on his agenda than Kurds and Syria. He is also seeking the extradition to Turkey of former ally-turned-arch political rival, Islamist cleric Fetullah Gulen, who fled Turkey for Pennsylvania in 1999.

Erdogan accuses Gulen of having masterminded the failed July 2016 coup against him, a claim the cleric denies. Critics of the Turkish president who are not allied with Gulen have questioned the authenticity of the coup, citing the professionalism of previous coups by the Turkish military and the amateur nature of last year’s attempt.

This won’t be the first time Erdogan has demanded that the U.S. extradite Gulen, whom he has taken to calling the head of “FETO” – the Fethullah Terrorist Organization.

Since the botched coup, Erdogan and his strongmen have conducted sweeping purges of the military, police, criminal justice and even education system, firing more than 120,000 suspected Gulen supporters and arresting more than 40,000. Erdogan called the failed coup a “gift from God.” Indeed.

Many of those arrested have been accused of being “terrorists” because they were caught in possession of U.S. one dollar bills, which Erdogan claims Gulen supporters use as a “secret signal” to identify themselves to one other.

Among these victims was the 19-year old son of a U.S.-based academic, Dr. Ahmet Yayla, who until 2014 served as police chief in Sanliurfa, a city along the Syrian border, where he was ordered to provide security to wounded ISIS terrorists so they could receive treatment in Turkish hospitals.

Since moving to the United States in 2015, Dr. Yayla, who says he has no affiliation with Gulen or the Gulenist movement, has written scathing exposes of how Erdogan helped funnel arms to ISIS and “deliberately turned a blind eye to the Islamic State’s use of his nation as a staging ground for attacks.” Dr. Yayla has also accused Erdogan and his family of benefiting from the sale of ISIS oil, citing hacked emails from the account of Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, who is Turkey’s Minister of energy and natural resources. He believes his son was arrested in an attempt to silence him.

The third item on Erdogan’s agenda is by far the most troubling, and could pose a real challenge to President Trump.

He wants the President to order the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York to drop charges against a Turkish-Iranian national, Reza Zarrab, who is accused of a vast money-laundering scheme to violate U.S. sanctions against Iran that allegedly involved huge bribes paid to top Turkish officials, including members of Erdogan’s own family.

Zarrab, also known as Riza Sarraf, was arrested while attempting to take his family to Disneyworld in March 2016. Despite offers to post a $10 million bond and to stay under house arrest in a luxury apartment in Manhattan, Zarrab remains in custody. His jury trial is scheduled to begin on August 16.

According to federal prosecutors, Zarrab offered his money-laundering services to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in a 2011 letter, and worked in tandem with Babak Zanjani, who had deep ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps.

The United States Treasury identified Zanjani and his Sorinet Group in 2013 as the principle operator of a vast money-laundering scheme that helped Iran to sell upwards of $200 billion of oil in violation of international sanctions. Zarrab and his Turkish political partners, reportedly including Erdogan himself, were instrumental in laundering the proceeds back to Iran through U.S. and Turkish banks.

Prosecutors in Turkey arrested Zarrab on December 17, 2013, on corruption charges involving bribes to four members of then Prime Minister Erdogan’s cabinet, including his son-in-law, Berat Albayrak.

Erdogan struck back by firing the prosecutors, police investigators and judges involved in the probe, accusing them of plotting against him on behalf of Fethullah Gulen.

Two months later, five audio tapes of alleged phone conversations between Erdogan and his son, Bilal, on the day of Zarrab’s arrest, show why Erdogan panicked. In the tapes, posted on line, Erdogan can be heard instructing his son to remove $1 billion in cash from his home and the homes of family members before the police arrived.

That money reportedly had been paid to Erdogan and his family by Zarrab in exchange for allowing Zarrab to launder Iranian oil money through Turkish banks and to buy gold he subsequently shipped to Iran via the United Arab Emirates. Erdogan has not denied that he and his son are speaking on the tapes, but claims they have been doctored.

For a few months, it was touch and go for Erdogan, with many commentators suggesting the corruption scandal would sweep him from office. But as his purges expanded and he closed down all opposition media, he managed instead to consolidate power. By March 2014, he ordered Zarrab released from jail and even commended him as a prominent job-creator and philanthropist. (Among Zarrab’s charitable gifts was a $4.65 million contribution to a charity run by Erdogan’s wife, Ermine, according to U.S. court filings.)

President Erdogan’s close ties to the Iranian regime have often been downplayed in the media and among Middle East “experts,” just as they have downplayed his ties to ISIS.

But Reza Zarrab knows the truth. Erdogan desperately wants to keep him from appearing at a public trial in New York, where prosecutors could very well convince him to tell the truth about the payoffs to Erdogan and the money-laundering scheme in exchange for a reduction of the 75-year prison term they are currently suggesting.

Here’s where it gets personal for President Trump.

In March, Zarrab hired former New York Mayor and Trump confidant Rudy Giuliani onto his legal team, along with former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

The two traveled to Turkey to confer with President Erdogan about the case and spoke with senior U.S. officials as well, arguing that Zarrab was a non-violent offender who deserved clemency.

They attempted to keep their involvement in the case confidential until Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard outed them in public court filings, accusing the two of seeking to “muddy the waters” by downplaying the gravity of the charges against their client.

“The entities that benefited from this alleged scheme include the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and agents or affiliates of that entity, Iranian banks that have been sanctioned for their role in providing financing for Iran’s nuclear programs, and Iranian commercial airlines,” Lockard said.

Giuliani’s lawfirm, Greenberg Traurig, is a registered lobbyist for the government of Turkey, giving rise to complaints from other members of Zarrab’s legal team that he might represent Turkey’s interests before their client’s. Mukasey’s lawfirm, Debevoise & Plimpton, is representing Iranian government-related defendants in a separate civil forfeiture case being prosecuted by Lockard, while Mukasey’s son has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Preet Bharara, who was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month.

Tayyip Erdogan is not known for his subtlety. In the days following the July 2016 attempted coup, he ordered Interior Ministry troops to surround the NATO airbase at Incirlik, which the U.S. Air Force uses for operations against ISIS, reportedly in retaliation for what he claimed was U.S. involvement in the coup.

He will surely remind the U.S. president that Turkey still controls Incirlik. He may also suggest that should President Trump not agree to his demands, the Turkish government might penalize the Trump Organization, which is building luxury residential and office towers in the heart of Istanbul.

While Erdogan might be tempted by this crude attempt at blackmail, he has far more to lose than Donald Trump.

President Trump has consistently said that he puts the national interest before his personal or business interests. Standing up to Erdogan, even taking a hit from Erdogan’s thugs, would only enhance his reputation with American voters, whereas Reza Zarrab’s revelations could sink Erdogan for good.

As for Incirlik, many have suggested already that the United States should build replacement air bases around the region, starting in Iraqi Kurdistan. If Turkey does not take their NATO commitments seriously, then we should reconsider Turkey’s membership in NATO.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in FrontPage Magazine.

Turkey Aiding the Islamic State by Establishing a Buffer Zone in Syria to Punish Kurds

The Daily Beast has a report today, that Erodgan is threatening to establish  a buffer zone in Northern Syria, the better to halt the successful Syria Kurdish advance against ISIS, “Turkey Plans to Invade Syria, But to Stop the Kurds, Not ISIS”. These developments followed Erdogan’s remarks last Friday night at a Ramadan break-fast Iftar dinner saying that he would never accept a Kurdistan state comprised of southeastern Turkey and adjacent Northern Syria. The Daily Beast article noted the unease of Turkish military about this latest diktat by the figurehead President whose Islamist AKP party was defeated by a minority of Kemalist, Nationalist and a Kurdish secular party:

In a speech last Friday, Erdogan vowed that Turkey would not accept a move by Syrian Kurds to set up their own state in Syria following gains by Kurdish fighters against the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, in recent weeks. “I am saying this to the whole world: We will never allow the establishment of a state on our southern border in the north of Syria,” Erdogan said. “We will continue our fight in that respect whatever the cost may be.” He accused Syrian Kurds of ethnic cleansing in Syrian areas under their control.

Following the speech, several news outlets reported that the president and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had decided to send the Turkish army into Syria, a hugely significant move by NATO’s second biggest fighting force after the U.S. military.  Both the daily Yeni Safak, a mouthpiece of the government, and the newspaper Sozcu, which is among Erdogan’s fiercest critics, ran stories saying the Turkish Army had received orders to send soldiers over the border. Several other media had similar stories, all quoting unnamed sources in Ankara. There has been no official confirmation or denial by the government.

The government refused to comment on the reports. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said “the necessary statement” would be issued after a regular meeting of the National Security Council, which comprises the president, the government and military leaders, this Tuesday.

The reports said up to 18,000 soldiers would be deployed to take over and hold a strip of territory up to 30 kilometers deep and 100 kilometers long that currently is held by ISIS. It stretches from close to the Kurdish-controlled city of Kobani in the east to an area further west held by the pro-Western Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other rebel groups, beginning around the town of Mare. This “Mare Line,” as the press calls it, is to be secured with ground troops, artillery and air cover, the reports said. Yeni Safak reported preparations were due to be finalized by next Friday.

There has been speculation about a Turkish military intervention ever since the Syrian conflict began in 2011. Ankara has asked the United Nations and its Western allies to give the green light to create a buffer zone and a no-fly area inside Syria in order to prevent chaos along the Turkish border and to help refugees on Syrian soil before they cross over into Turkey. But the Turkish request has fallen on deaf ears.

Remember Obama saying that he wished there were more Islamist leaders like AKP Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Arab ummah of the Middle East. Erodgan’s threatening to invade Syria to build a buffer zone to do what,protect shrines of ancient Ottoman Sultans. We bet he’s mad at the Kurdish HDP party, that together with the Kemalist CHP and Nationalist HNP, thwarted his dream of becoming the Sultan of a neo-Ottoman empire with the minority parties copping a plurality of votes in the June 7th parliamentary elections. He’s also mad at the plucky Syrian Kurds for beating back the ISIS in a string of victories this month. This despite bloody raids by ISIS on both Kobani and Hasakah that were beaten back.

Those Kurdish actions may have cut off the main route for those foreign fighters that Turkey gives a wink and a nod to backed by funds and assistance from the infamous Muslim Brotherhood global IHH charity, You remember IHH? They backed the infamous 2010 Free Gaza Flotilla Mavi Marmara incident infamy. We wrote about IHH caught sending cash and weapons from Turkey into Syria for brothers in AQ and, ahem, ISIS. We bet the Turkish military isn’t so keen to do Erdogan’s bidding given their NATO membership and because the 45 days aren’t up to see if a ruling minority government can be formed or a new election is called so that Erdogan might return his Premier, Ahmet Davutoglu to power with a super majority.

Since the Obama White House doesn’t want to give the Syrian Kurds perhaps U.S. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Senate Armed Forces Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) can put the squeeze on Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to release those quality weapons from the U.S. War Reserve Stock already positioned in Israel. Perhaps this Daily Beast report may be a clarion call to action to deliver the quality weapons fro both Syrian Kurds and Iraqi Peshmerga to push back ISIS. They are the only boots on the ground doing this successfully. I’ve said my piece and more in a forthcoming July NER article with the apt title “Empowering Kurdistan”. watch for its release on Tuesday June 30th.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of female Kurdish fighters prepare to fight to the death to defend their homes against the Islamic State.