Critics of Trump's withdrawal ignore reality in Syria - Cockburn

Denounced as a surrender to Turkey, Russia, Iran and Syria, as well as a betrayal of the Kurds, U.S. President Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria is actually a recognition of what is happening on the ground, said Patrick Cockburn of the UK-based Independent.

This point has not come across clearly because of the “undiluted loathing for Trump among most of the American and British media,” the columnist wrote. “They act as a conduit for the views of diverse figures who condemn the withdrawal and include members of the imperially-minded foreign policy establishment in Washington and terrified Kurds living in north-east Syria who fear ethnic cleansing by an invading Turkish army.”

This opposition was boosted by the resignation of Defence Secretary James Mattis, who did not mention Syria in his resignation letter but made clear his disagreement with Trump’s foreign policy decisions. Commentators saw this as the departure of “the last of the adults in the room” of Trump’s White House, said Cockburn.

This view suggests it was OK for the United States to “have an open-ended commitment with no attainable goals in an isolated and dangerous part of the world,” he wrote.

It is right to be worried for the Syrian Kurds, facing a Turkish army massing at the border to the north. But this concern is nothing new. “There is a horrible inevitability about all this because neither Turkey nor Syria were ever going to allow a Kurdish mini-state to take permanent root in north-east Syria,” said Cockburn.

This Kurdish enclave exists only because of the Syrian war, which pushed out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad spurred an alliance between the US and the Kurds to fight the Islamic State (ISIS). Turkey was never going to accept its existence long-term, said Cockburn, because it views the U.S.’ Kurdish partners as terrorists.

“I have visited the Kurdish controlled part of Syria several times and felt that it was the only part of Syria where the uprising of 2011 had produced a society that was better than what had gone before,” Cockburn wrote.

“I met the men and women of the People’s Protection Units (YPG and YPJ) who fought heroically against ISIS, suffering thousands of dead and wounded. But I always had a doomed feeling when talking to them as I could not see how their statelet, which had been brought into existence by temporary circumstances, was going to last beyond the end of the Syrian civil war and the defeat of Isis. One day the Americans would have to choose between 2 million embattled Kurds in Syria and 80 million Turks in Turkey and it did not take much political acumen to foresee what they would decide.”

Trump needs Turkey as an ally in the Middle East more than ever before, said Cockburn. His bet on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Saudi Arabia as the leader of a pro-American and anti-Iranian Sunni coalition in the Middle “has visibly and embarrassingly failed,” he said, thanks to “a series of Saudi pratfalls showing comical ineptitude as well as excessive and mindless violence.”

Trump critics raise other questions regarding the Syria pull-out. Is he letting ISIS off the hook, enabling them to make a comeback? Maybe, Cockburn said, though ISIS still has Russia, Iran, Syria, and others to fight. Is he handing victory to Putin and Assad? Trump has recognized that both of them are already winners in the Syrian war, Cockburn said. And it’s not clear that Russia and Iran will have greater influence after a U.S. withdrawal.

“By denouncing Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria,” Cockburn concluded, “his opponents are once again making the mistake of underestimating his instinctive political skills.”