U.S. President Donald Trump is right to pull back from supporting PKK-affiliated Kurds in northern Syria, wrote American experts in an opinion piece published Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal.
Michael Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and Michael Reynolds, a professor of Near Eastern studies and director of the Program in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at Princeton University, emphasized it is critics of Trump’s Syria policy who “disregard reality,” rather than the president.
Criticizing the bias of U.S.’s foreign policy establishment against Turkey, the analysts said “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” on Capitol Hill and in many Washington think tanks.
“Turkey’s determination to secure its southern border against the YPG,” is not impulsive, they said, in contrast to 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,” they said.
Emphasizing in detail that it is not the personality of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that “ruptures” the U.S.-Turkey relationship and calling such remarks “lazy assumption” and “oversimplification,” the academics pointed out that the “causes of Ankara’s recent willingness to defy Washington go beyond one man’s personality.”
“Polls reliably indicate that 70% to 80% of Turks regard the U.S. as a hostile power,” at a time when “Erdogan commands the support of only around 40% of Turks,” they said.
Why is the U.S. losing Turkey?
Listing three major grievances of Turkey against the U.S., the analysts first cited the “diffident” Syria policy of the administration of former President Barack Obama that eventually paved the way for Turkish-Russian proximity.
They argued that Ankara was left on its own in Syria because of Obama’s policies.
“Left on its own, Ankara realized it had little choice but to accommodate Moscow. Vladimir Putin’s steadfastness trumped Mr. Obama’s aloofness,” they said.
The article listed the “curious sympathy that America extends” to Fethullah Gulen, the leader of Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) as the second most important grievance of Turkey.
“The Department of Homeland Security originally denied Mr. Gulen’s application for a residence permit under the [George W.] Bush administration, finding that Mr. Gulen’s claims regarding his educational abilities were exaggerated. Figures close to Mr. Gulen have been accused of playing key roles in the July 2016 coup attempt that took the lives of 251 Turks. U.S. experts on Turkey—such as James Jeffrey, a former ambassador to Ankara—say that Mr. Gulen’s followers have pursued power in Turkey by infiltrating government bodies. Many Turks doubt Mr. Gulen’s supporters could participate in a coup without his blessing. Before taking up his current position as the State Department’s point man on Syria, Mr. Jeffrey stated that it is ‘embarrassing’ that Mr. Gülen ‘is sitting here in the United States.’ How, many Turks ask, can the U.S. harbor such a despicable figure?,” the article read.
Analysts said the third grave mistake of the U.S. is the “most consequential”, when the Obama administration decided 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,” said American experts.
“For the U.S. to retaliate against Turkey and alienate it permanently would be folly,” they said.
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