The new US plan to leave Syria puts success (or failure) in...

The new US plan to leave Syria puts success (or failure) in Turkey’s hands

By Luke Vargas   
Published
Kurdish fighters near the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor. June 12, 2018. Courtesy: YPG
Kurdish fighters near the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor. June 12, 2018. Courtesy: YPG

Instead of asking Turkey to guarantee US interests when we're gone, the US could push its Syrian allies to make nice with President Assad.

UNITED NATIONS – U.S. policy in Syria took another surprise turn last weekend as the White House walked back President Trump’s December announcement that the U.S. had “won against ISIS” and could leave Syria within weeks.

Instead, the White House now says that withdrawal won’t occur until Islamic State troops are more thoroughly defeated and America’s Syrian Kurdish allies like the YPG are protected.

Gil Barndollar is the director of Middle East Studies at the Center for the National Interest.

“The administration says a lot of conflicting things about what our interests are in Syria.”

The administration’s new approach, somewhere between an immediate pull out and endless occupation, is to engage Turkey to defend American interests in Syria. Barndollar is skeptical.

“I don’t think we should trust the Turks to protect our interests in Syria.”

Historically, Turkey has suppressed domestic Kurdish independence movements. It fears a U.S.-trained Kurdish population just over its border could set an example for terrorism and dissent at home. Turkey may use that as a reason to attack the Syrian Kurds once American soldiers depart.

Dana Stroul is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“This is the not last conflict like this the United State is going to face, which means that local actors like the YPG need to trust the United States when we say, ‘we have your back, if you shed blood for these objectives and we train you and we equip you and we advise you, we will not abandon you on the battlefield.’”

Rather than risk getting sweet-talked by Turkey, Barndollar say the U.S. could broker a Kurdish deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, trading recently gained territory for political autonomy and protection against Turkey.

“As much as the administration and probably a lot of Americans probably wouldn’t want to see this, we’ve sort of got to bite our lip and allow the Syrian Kurds to reconcile with the Syrian government.”

By that logic, Assad may be a better guarantor than Turkey of safety for the Syrian Kurds.

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