Syrian complications

I have found Michael Doran to be one of our most insightful analysts of American foreign policy in the Middle East. See, for example, his 2015 Mosaic essay “Obama’s secret Iran strategy” or any of his many other Mosaic essays posted here.

Doran does not find the choices available to President Trump in Syria as simple as does the chorus from whom we have heard over the past week. Perhaps he is mistaken. I don’t know. Doran’s New York Post column “How Obama’s team set up Trump’s Syrian dilemma” provides valuable background.

Doran comes at it from a slightly different angle with Michael Reynolds in the Wall Street Journal column “Turkey Has Legitimate Grievances Against the U.S.” Doran and Reynolds write:

President Trump’s critics see his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria as the product of a dangerous impulsiveness that ignores strategic realities. They argue that it betrays the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, the Kurdish force that helped the U.S. defeat Islamic State, while rewarding a dangerous autocrat, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But it is Mr. Trump’s critics who disregard reality.

Most members of America’s foreign-policy establishment see Turkey as an ungrateful ally, perhaps even a Trojan horse inside the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s walls. On Capitol Hill and in many Washington think tanks, a call for concessions to Tehran will get a more sympathetic hearing than a call to compromise with Ankara, a treaty ally for 67 years. Turkey’s determination to secure its southern border against the YPG is a wanton impulse, in the prevailing view. But the YPG has substantial ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, as then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter testified before Congress in April 2016. Classified by the State Department as a terrorist organization, the PKK has been waging armed struggle against Turkey since 1984 at a cost of tens of thousands of lives, according to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, a respected source on armed conflict.

Doran and Reynolds ask why the United States is losing Turkey and provide three grievances that stand out. The third bears directly on current events:

The third misdeed is the most consequential: the Obama administration’s decision in 2016 to arm and train YPG members and directly embed American special forces with them. Rather than work with Turkey, the U.S. chose to support the Syrian wing of the PKK, which the Turkish public holds responsible for decades of warfare and tens of thousands of deaths. The PKK represents a grave threat to the Turkish Republic, and Turks across the political spectrum loathe it. To dismiss Ankara’s objections to America’s arming of the YPG as mere anti-Kurdish bigotry is ignorant, akin to labeling the fight against al Qaeda as Islamophobia.

Again, I don’t know. I offer Doran’s columns as a counterpoint to the chorus of Trump critics for those with an open mind and seeking to understand the complicated background to Trump’s disposition of American forces in Syria.

Responses