Dirty deal

Thursday, October 17, 2019

By David L. Phillips

Not so fast.

Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo got rolled by Erdogan. The “great deal” gives Turkey everything it wanted. It rewards Turkey for attacking our allies, the Kurds, assigning it control of a 22-mile buffer on the Syrian side of the border. The deal is in effect for five days, after which Turkey can continue its killing spree.

The Syrian Kurds were not involved in negotiations. A senior official for the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), which represents Syrian Kurds, says the SDC has no information about the agreement.

Giving Turkey control of the buffer zone rewards Turkey for seizing territory by force. This is Syrian and Kurdish land. Giving Turkey a buffer zone ensures further instability.

How does the deal address the status of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)? Turkey thinks they are required to disarm and depart the buffer zone. The SDF has a different understanding.

As of this writing, Turkey’s aggression continues. Ras al-Ayn is besieged on three sides and fighting is ongoing.

Turkey does not commit to control its jihadist proxy, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which acts under its supervision.

There is no accountability for Turkey’s war crimes and FSA atrocities. Nor is there a mechanism to ensure accountability in the future.

Turkey makes no commitment for the continued detention of hard-core ISIS fighters. Trusting Turkey to guard them is tantamount to the wolf guarding the chicken coop.

About 160,000 people have been driven from their homes in northern Syria. No arrangement exists for their return.

Trump is like a snake-oil salesman. Congress must not be fooled. Both houses should press ahead with sanctions on senior Turkish officials, including Erdogan, and others in the defense ministry and intelligence agency.

The US should insist on the immediate removal of 50 nuclear weapons presently at Incirlik air force base in Southeast Turkey.

Trump should rescind his invitation for Erdogan to visit the White House in a few weeks. Extending hospitality under such circumstances is morally repugnant.

The UN should open a humanitarian corridor from Ras al-Ayn, allowing evacuation of the wounded.

Trump’s “great deal” happened so fast. Did the Turks merely submit a list of demands to which Pence and Pompeo immediately agreed? What promises were made to Trump whose family business has an ownership position in 119 Turkish companies, as well twin towers in Istanbul bearing his name. Trump’s effusive praise for Erdogan raises suspicions that Erdogan will reward Trump once he leaves office.

What happened in Ankara is a diplomatic travesty. Pence and Pompeo are unprincipled amateurs, acting in Turkey’s interests – not America’s.

They have adopted Turkey’s talking points, parroting Erdogan that our allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces, are worse than ISIS. They are also echoing Turkish propaganda, blaming the Kurds for attacking Christians in northern Syrian when, in fact, the Kurds have been protecting them against the FSA. The SDF have protected minorities, including the Yezidis and Chaldean Christians, targeted by ISIS and more recently the Turkey’s FSA.

Shame on Turkey for attacking northern Syria in the first place. Shame on Pence and Pompeo for agreeing to their demands. Shame on the Congress if it abandons sanctions and on Erdogan’s terror state and his terror militia.

David L. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a senior adviser working on US-Turkey relations at the State Department during the administrations of President Clinton, Bush, and Obama. His recent book is The Great Betrayal: How America Abandoned the Kurds and Lost the Middle East. His forthcoming book is Front Line Syria: A Political and Military History of the Civil War.