Trump Gave Turkey a Choice on Syria: Cooperate with the US Productively or Risk Catastrophe

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With all of the ‘oppose-Trump-no-matter-what’ from Democrats and the media, it’s hard to get a good read on the nuance involved in key policy decisions. Such is the case with President Trump’s decision to pull troops back from northern Syria, giving a green light for Turkey to move in on the Kurds. As much as his detractors would have you think this a rogue and belligerent decision, Trump has been advocating for pulling back exposure in the Middle East since the campaign trail.

Besides, to act as if President Trump isn’t  good for following through on his cautionary ultimatums to Turkey is to ignore clear patterns he’s exhibited time and again as commander-in-chief. This decision was not an impulsive snap by an impetuous president; it was a strategic move that overs Turkey a clear choice as Erielle Davidson argues convincingly in the Federalist.

Davidson is a law student at Georgetown University Law Center. She currently serves as a Fellow at the Center for International Law in the Middle East (CILME) at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University. She writes about Israel, the Middle East, and related issues. Here she breaks down the Obama administration policies that ultimately led to the choice Trump gave Turkey on northern Syria:

“The brewing conflict along the Syrian-Turkish border, which reentered the news cycle this week as Turkish President Recep Erdoğan threatened to invade Syria, is rooted in Obama-era policies that were always destined to erupt in chaos. The conflict in Syria is one of the geopolitical crises that the Trump administration has been both quite focused on and fairly sophisticated in addressing. None of this was apparent from the last few days of media coverage, however.

To put it bluntly, President Obama left Trump an intractable situation in northern Syria. Back in the mid-2010s, after President Obama dismissed the Islamic State as a “JV team,” his administration scrambled to address the very real ISIS threat that had fomented in Syria. They had a range of allies to choose from in Syria, but they chose to empower the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which has close ties with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a group regarded as a terrorist organization by the United States, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, European Union, United Kingdom, and Japan. The Obama administration helped to install the YPG along hundreds of miles of Syrian-Turkish border. 

There are compelling arguments that suggest their decision was more broadly linked to the Obama administration’s wider pivot toward Iran and away from traditional American alliances, an assertion policy expert Michael Doran has posited here. Regardless of their motivations, the alliance created an impossible situation for Turkey. The Turks, justifiably or not, were never going to allow forces that they believed to be terrorist enablers to post up indefinitely across their border. Absent some alternative to address Turkey’s security concerns, military action was all but inevitable.

To complicate the situation even more greatly, the Obama administration’s decision entangled us in the fate of the Syrian Kurds as never before. We threw our weight vociferously behind their cause and vice versa. In the process, they took enormous losses in battles that we had declared to the international community were absolutely critical to our national security. With the Syrian Kurds, we had become allies. And that means an enormous amount.

This entire quagmire was emblematic of the untenable situation the Trump administration inherited from the Obama administration. Eventually, Turkish security concerns would have to be addressed, but those concerns stemmed unfortunately from Kurdish fighters who had fought with honor alongside our soldiers. 

After several attempts to solve the problem […]”

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