Nov 28 2017

Trump fumbles on Syria but it helps U.S. anyway, experts say

When Turkey’s foreign minister said U.S. President Donald Trump had told his Turkish counterpart the United States would stop giving arms to Syrian Kurdish forces, it caught the U.S. administration by surprise, but such a move could still serve Washington’s interests, two experts wrote in USA Today.

The Turkish government has long been pressuring the U.S. administration to end support for the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which it says is linked to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) separatists fighting in Turkey.

Yet the United States relied on the SDF to defeat Islamic State (ISIS) and, wrote former U.S. State Department officials Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky, the U.S. administration hoped to be able to use the group to put pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad and contain Iran’s influence.

The two experts who work at Washington think-tanks, the Woodrow Wilson International Center and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote:

In essence, the president pulled the rug out from America’s Kurdish allies; undermined his own administration’s policy of toughening up its approach toward Iran; and seemingly denied itself leverage on the battlefield to influence the outcome of peace talks.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu told a news conference on Friday that Trump had told President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that the United States would stop arming the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.

“Mr. Trump clearly stated that he had given clear instructions, and that the YPG won’t be given arms and that this nonsense should have ended a long time ago,” Çavuşoğlu said.

Both the White House and Defense Department appeared to be taken aback by the statement when asked for confirmation by reporters and said the administration was reviewing its policy of arming the YPG-dominated SDF following its capture of the Islamic State capital of Raqqa.

Halting support for the SDF appeared to fly in the face of statements from other Washington officials who had said only days before that the United States planned to remain in Syria in order to influence the peace process there.

But, said the two experts, U.S. disengagement from Syria could be a good move since the United States had no vital interests there and the conflict does not threaten the oil flow from the region.

Compared to North Korean crisis, where the contradictory statements from Trump and the rest of his administration made the problem bigger, his Syrian fumble produced “a less damaging and perhaps more felicitous result” the experts concluded.