Trump's culpability in Turkish war crimes

There is a warning given to all analysts not to fall into a trap called ‘pride of previous position’. President Trump is currently proving the wisdom of that saying. It became clear very quickly that giving the Turks the green light, intentionally or not, to move against the Kurds in northern Syria was a mistake.

The more people around him tell him it was a mistake and that we need to defend the Kurds, the more he resists. Senior Republicans in the House and Senate have opposed the president's move. The senior military commanders have all opposed the move and advised against it, but it appears that the louder they yell, the more Trump resists. Many say this is because Trump is owned by Putin or Erdogan, but the fact is it is because his ego has overridden common sense. The problem today for America is this: we have a president who has done very well domestically and revived a moribund economy, but understands little about foreign policy.

Trump’s ego is such that he cannot admit when he has made a mistake. While this is common among politicians and successful businesspeople, it is very dangerous when applied to international affairs. Trump’s excuse that he is keeping a promise to get our troops out and stop the unending wars belies the fact that this is more likely to expand the conflict. He said this is done so we do not have to go to war, which the same excuse Obama made in pushing the Iran agreement, that it was either an agreement or war.

The question, then, is how much influence the US can exert on Turkey in the short term. The answer is very little, since Erdogan is a prisoner of his own ego and controls a large army that he sees as invincible. While Trump sees himself as a great negotiator, leaks from the conversation indicate that Trump was, in the words of those present, ‘rolled’ by Erdogan. This leaves the question of whether or not the Turks would have crossed the border if US troops were left in place: a question we will never know the answer to.

I blame Trump for the current state of affairs in northern Syria, but new solutions need to be found. Erdogan sees the Kurds as terrorists, which is what he meant when he told Trump he would handle the terrorists in the area. Trump, of course, took this to mean the Islamic State (ISIS). The problem now is that the PYD and their YPG forces are in fact seen by many as offshoots of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. The Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government also holds this view. Regardless, once the first bombs fell on Kurdish civilians, the US should have moved its troops forward and at least engaged the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army. They did not, which now raises the question of where the rest of the world’s forces are, who have decried Turkish aggression.

In a press conference, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said the US will not go to war against Turkey, a fellow NATO member. This may explain the absence of NATO condemnation, but that alliance must be questioned. NATO was formed as a military response to Soviet aggression, with Turkey holding a strategic location on the border with the Soviet Union. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the purpose of NATO was expanded to peacekeeping and expanding democracy. Turkey has lost its claim as a member since it has assisted terrorism in the region and ended any semblance of democracy in Turkey. The wheels of bureaucracy move slowly, but it’s time NATO accepted this fact and removed any protection Turkey has as a member state.

Unless Congress can convince Trump to reverse course, an unlikely outcome, Turkey must be held accountable for its actions and the war crimes committed by it forces and its proxies. Continuing to blame Trump and protests at the White House are of no use; it is like flogging a dead horse. At this time the eyes of the world and the protests and actions must be directed at Turkey. Syrian forces will do very little against the Turkish army and the Russians are unlikely to engage Turkey directly. In order to end this aggression, some form of credible military threat must be made.

Regardless of how you feel about Trump, he is not the answer to the aggression against the Kurds. Where are the PKK or the Arab League? Turkey must be made to feel pain and in the short term – militarily. It must also be taught that any future actions of this type will bring ruin to the whole of the nation in the form of economic sanctions. In this regard, the US Congress can and must act. Time is of the essence before thousands die. We cannot wait for committee hearings.

Paul Davis is a retired US Army military intelligence and former Soviet analyst. He is a consultant to the American intelligence community specializing in the Middle East with a concentration on Kurdish affairs. He is president of the consulting firm JANUS Think in Washington D.C. and is also a lecturer at Soran University.
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