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Trump operates on the basis of ‘Trump First,’ not ‘America First’

Oct 10,2019 - Last updated at Oct 10,2019

Donald Trump has said that the US will withdraw troops from northern Syria in order to allow Turkey to launch a military operation to clear Kurdish fighters from the border area east of the Euphrates River. His abandonment of the Kurds has compelled US troops and contractors to pull back, and prompted demonstrations by fearful civilians living in the area the Turks intend to attack.

Trump's abrupt policy switch has surprised the US military, which had initiated joint air and ground patrols with Turkish forces along the border to pre-empt potential clashes between Kurds and Turks. He shocked the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), the main constituent of the US-formed Syrian Democratic Forces, which was the only local formation deployed successfully against Daesh. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may also have been pleasantly surprised, when, after his phone call with Trump last Sunday, he gave a green light to the invasion of northeastern Syria. Erdogan has for many months been threatening to invade and occupy a 30-kilometre wide belt of Syrian territory and expel YPG fighters. With them will go tens of thousands of local Kurdish, Armenian, Assyrian and Arab residents, making room for 2-3 million of the 3.6 million Syrian Arab refugees from elsewhere Turkey seeks to deport. Having once welcomed the Syrians, Erdogan wants them to disappear because they have become unpopular with fellow Turks.

Turkey considers the YPG an offshoot of the Turkish Kurdish Workers' Party, which has been fighting the Turkish army for more than 30 years, and seeks to end the YPG's reign in northern Syria as this encourages the Turkish Kurds to continue their struggle for autonomy and, ultimately, independence.

Last December, Trump reignited Erdogan's ambition to take over a wide swathe of Syrian territory along Turkey's southern border by announcing the US intention of withdrawing its 2,000 plus forces from Syria. Most have been deployed in the north alongside the YPG, while the US warplanes supplied air cover during the fight against Daesh. Trump waited until he could, wrongly, proclaim Daesh's defeat, although an estimated 30,000 of its fighters are free, regrouping and threatening or engaging in fresh attacks. Daesh is far from finished as Trump has claimed.

Since January, the US has attempted to get Erdogan to agree to a US plan for a buffer zone patrolled by joint forces. Washington succeeded in August but the plan has not satisfied Erdogan. Having failed to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad by supporting a rabble of "rebels", Erdogan has committed to the occupation of Syrian territory as the next best option. Turkey has used "rebels" and taqfiris to create a surrogate force to take part in the invasion with the backing of the Turkish army and air force. The surrogates are meant to stay on and control the occupation zone.

While Erdogan has repeatedly said he intends to mount this military operation to create a "zone of peace", peace is unlikely to be the outcome. The YPG has responded by saying that its forces will defend themselves and the 700,000 people who live along the border. The US has continued to provide arms and vehicles to the YPG as tensions along the border have risen due to Turkey's build-up on its side of the frontier. However, the US insisted that the Kurds dismantle border fortifications and positions as part of the deal for joint patrols. This has weakened the Kurds’ ability to defend their area. If and when battle erupts, US forces could withdraw completely from northern Syria and, perhaps, from the base created at Tanf in the southeast.

Syria and its Russian and Iranian allies oppose the creation of a Turkish-controlled "safe zone" as it violates Syrian sovereignty and prevents the resumption of Damascus-rule in the north of the country.

Trump's abandonment of the Kurds, who lost 11,000 fighters in the anti-Daesh campaign, is both abhorrent and dangerous. It is unconscionable because US fatalities in both Syria and Iraq were just 16. The Kurds did the fighting in Syria, although US troops were in the front line in Iraq. Trump is obsessed with a promise he made during his campaign to his "base" of supporters to withdraw US troops from the battlefields of Syria and Afghanistan. He has not listened to military and political advisers who warn that the withdrawal of US troops will be exploited by Turkey, in the case of Syria, and the Taliban in Afghanistan. His withdrawal demands are not in the interests of the US and the wider region. He will create new areas of conflict, occupation and oppression that could fragment existing states.

Trump operates on the basis of "Trump First", not "America First". He is interested only in serving his own interests and ambitions. He has a valuable property, Trump Towers in Istanbul, two conjoined high-rise blocks of which he is very proud. At present, he is in campaign mode with the aim of winning a second term in the White House. Beleaguered by impeachment investigations, Trump is determined to shore up popularity with his "base", which does not like US involvement in foreign wars even if they do not kill many US soldiers in constituencies favouring Trump. They and he are oblivious to developments outside their purview and could not care less about matters they do not understand or want to take on board. This being the case with Trump, he should not have run for the president of a country with hundreds of military bases and posts around the globe and was formerly seen, mistakenly, as a force for good. This has never been the case.

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