BIPP: Trump, Turkey and the Syria question

Harry Morris, BIPP Intern

On Oct. 6, President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of troops from northern Syria after being requested to do so by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The previously American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that had helped the United States fight against ISIS were now left alone. Promptly three days later, Turkish airstrikes started on border towns in northern Syria. Since then, numerous civilians have been killed in clear human rights violations, and hundreds of thousands more displaced. Turkey is attempting to relocate thousands of Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey into the Kurdish area. The decision by Trump was criticized on both sides of the American political spectrum and seen as a betrayal of a brave minority ally of the United States.

A recent development has now torn politicians and political commentators again into partisan camps. On Oct. 26, an operation was enacted to capture or kill ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The operation was successful, and al-Baghdadi died that same day. There now exists controversy over how much of the operation was either because of the Commander-in-Chief and how much was in spite of him. Former Vice President Joe Biden has come out with a statement praising the military and intelligence forces that orchestrated the operation but criticized Trump for destabilizing the region weeks before the operation occurred. In contrast to the praise that former President Barack Obama received when he decisively ordered the operation that ended in the assassination of Osama bin Laden, critics of Trump cite the fact that U.S. operatives received fire in territory that they held only weeks prior before the order to leave the area.

The House of Representatives did overwhelmingly approve of two new bipartisan proposals that are direct criticisms of Turkey, and, by extension, Trump. The House approved a bill that would impose tough economic sanctions on Turkey, potentially crippling their economy. This comes after Trump lifted sanctions on Turkey because they had agreed to a “permanent ceasefire.” House Republicans and Democrats both came together to pass new sanctions despite the President’s actions. The House also officially recognized and commemorated the Armenian Genocide committed by the Turkish government. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi directly referenced the new attacks on Kurdish territory as a reason to officially recognize the atrocities formally committed by the Turkish government.

U.S. lawmakers are still undivided on their criticism of this administration’s decision to abandon our allies in Syria this month. The decision is consistent in trying to end interventionist wars, but removing the troops in northern Syria and leaving the SDF to be bombed by the Turkish army was a mistake. The decision to go after al-Baghdadi was the right one, and it was successful. However, the death of al-Baghdadi does not vindicate the strategy to abandon the Kurdish people.

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