By: Twumasi Duah-Mensah
The two American political parties almost never agree on anything anymore, so when both collectively boo a major decision, it must be bad, right?
Republican senator Mitt Romney couldn’t accept that, by yanking its troops from Northern Syria, the mighty USA had yielded to a belligerent Turkish government dismissive of human rights and apathetic of the possibility they could spark another refugee crisis. Democrats were wary of how President Trump deserted our allies, the Kurdish army, and threw the credibility of an American alliance away. Anyone justifying the betrayal of America’s word for Turkey must be delusional, no? It’s great that Turkey decided to not obliterate Northeastern Syria and cease fire, instead, but how could the Commander-in-Chief make such a disastrous decision in the first place?
As you sift through all the trademark politician rhetoric, you’ll find out that the decision was, in fact, justified by solid strategic thinking and showed how countries don’t have permanent allies: only permanent interests.
Why does Turkey fiend for Northeastern Syria so much?
Turkey doesn’t care for what’s in Northeastern Syria but who’s in Northeastern Syria: the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). To understand why an army fighting for Kurdish rights is relevant to Turkey, you must understand why the Kurds and the Turkish aren’t very fond of each other—at all. The Kurds want to start their own country, Kurdistan, in their historical homeland, part of which is in the eastern region of Turkey. That’s a problem for the Turkish, who’d prefer the Kurdish, who make up 18% of Turkey’s population, not try to tear off a chunk of the country and threaten national security in the process.
All these Kurds championing separatism worries Turkey, who considers the Kurdish YPG a terrorist group. The Turkish people are also not very happy with an ethnic group who’d rather secede from the nation and take the country’s land connection to the Middle East and Asia with them, so Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made it a priority to deal with the Kurdish problem—not just for national security but for his reelection and consolidation of power—hence his decision to invade Northeastern Syria.
What does the US have to do with the Kurdish?
One acronym: ISIS. These guys want to obliterate us, so it’d be nice to keep them in check. As a result, the US allied with the Kurdish YPG to achieve their goal. The apparent reversal of our willingness to eliminate ISIS’ hold on the Middle East was why, as American soldiers drove away from Northern Syria in retreat, their former allies felt betrayed. More than betrayed. Did all the blood poured to stop ISIS mean nothing to the US? Were all the times the President celebrated ISIS’ defeat—for nothing? What about all the ISIS prisoners that, if the Kurds couldn’t keep under control, would be let loose? How could that, all of a sudden, mean nothing?
It felt like a play with a horrible ending. An ending so horrible, it made a mockery of the carefully-crafted plot the play spent a painfully long time building up. It was only right that the Kurds, feeling the Americans turned their back on their own values of peace and justice, flung tomatoes and potatoes at the retreating US soldiers. The Kurds made a point, though: why would President Trump be willing to tarnish the US’ reputation as a beacon for those fighting for democracy?
America 1, China & Russia 0
China’s trying to strengthen a relationship with Turkey. That’s not very good news for the US as a superpower. See, China is trying to complete the most ambitious economic project in world history: the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a long-term plan aiming to increase China’s influence on the Eastern Hemisphere and, by extension, the world economy.
As is characteristic with a project estimated to cost $26 trillion to complete and requiring over 60 countries to cooperate, a few major milestones must be achieved to increase confidence in countries interested in being a part of BRI. China masterminding a partnership with Turkey—the bridge between the Western and Eastern Hemisphere—would be one of those milestones. The promise of the East having influence on the West through Turkey intrigues Russia, who also look to thaw frozen relations between them and the Turkish government.
For the US, this is very, very worrying. Not only is the BRI a long-term pair of scissors threatening to cut their economic supremacy to the Western half of the globe, but their dominance in the West might be challenged, too. Though not as flashy as it was in the Cold War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a great way to unite North America and Europe’s militaries against common threats and stay reliant on each other so its member countries don’t turn on themselves. If China and Russia have their way with Turkey, though, the NATO members most vulnerable to their influence (i.e. the Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) will need a lot of economic and military protection from the US.
Instead of waiting for an inevitable, expensive payment to keep NATO and the US’ economic dominance secure, why not make nice with Turkey now and send China and Russia back to the drawing board? All the while, President Trump gets over 60% backing for his decision from his Republican voting base.
Meanwhile, China has already condemned Turkey for the invasion and hasn’t walked back. The US working to help Turkey achieve its goals while keeping within humanitarian bounds will make Erdogan’s nationalist base much more receptive to US deals than the Chinese, a major setback for the Belt and Road Initiative.
Conclusion – a strategically sound move in the long run.
The decision looks ludicrous, but for the US to gain an edge over the rising economic powerhouse in China, President Trump’s pulling troops out of Syria is a necessary move. Expect China’s threat on US dominance to influence major foreign policy decisions in the future, especially while Trump is still President.