The foreign policy elite is in an uproar. They claim we have abandoned our allies, they question how can America be trusted, they say the decision to withdraw from northern Syria was a gift to Russia, Iran, and Assad, to ISIS even. It is true that the U.S. and NATO policy of interventionism is failing, but that has been true since the invasion of Iraq or earlier. After the disastrous invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and an 8-year undeclared war on Syria, isn’t it time to question the foreign policy elite?
If one believes in the restoration of international law and the tenants of the UN Charter, then the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from northern Syria is a good thing. Here are some facts and history that explain why.
Fact: Syria is not our country and U.S. troops were never authorized by its sovereign government to be there. Whether or not Washington likes Damascus is irrelevant, under international law U.S. troops have no right to be there. Even flights over Syrian airspace by the U.S. coalition are a violation of international agreements. The resposbilibility is on Syrians to defend their country against an invading Turkey, and if the Syrian government does choose to enlist support from another country, that is their right.
Fact: President Barack Obama was correct when he said that “putting boots on the ground” in Syria would be a “profound mistake.” He later said, “We have a very specific objective, one that will not lead into boots on the ground or anything like that.” But the hawks prevailed. There were not only “boots on the ground”, but there was also a shifting rationale of their reasons for being there.
The U.S. and its myriad allies in the region have done all they can, short of a direct invasion, to overthrow the government of Syria. They have spent tens of billions of dollars on weapons, training, equipment and recruitment, all in direct contravention of international law. More than one hundred thousand Syrians have died defending their country against a foreign-sponsored army of mercenaries and foreign fighters.
Fact: The U.S. encouraged the emergence of the Islamic State. Why? Because it put pressure on the Assad government in Damascus and provided a casus belli the US. to enter Syria. While the U.S. carpet-bombed Raqqa, it looked the other way as hundreds of massive convoys carried oil from eastern Syria into Turkey to fund the ISIS operations. The U.S. carried out airstrikes against the Syrian Arab Army in the midst of a critical battle against ISIS near Deir Ezzor. In a now-famous secretly recorded conversation with Syrian opposition activists in New York, Former Secretary of State John Kerry admitted that the United States was hoping to use ISIS to undermine the Syrian government. To put it bluntly, U.S. foreign policy was duplicitous and used terrorism as a tool. This, of course, is a well-documented fact.
After the U.S.-backed “Free Syrian Army” failed to overthrow the Syrian government, the U.S. sought out alternative means. They began to fund Syrian Kurdish militias known as the Peoples Protection Unit (YPG/YPJ). They gave the militias a new name, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and encouraged the group’s secessionist tendencies.
Meanwhile, in Turkey, home to the region’s most sizable Kurdish population, Kurds are fighting for their rights and have formed a political party (Peoples Democratic Party – HDP) to unite progressives of all ethnicities. In the 2015 Turkish election, the HDP emerged as the third most popular party and was able to stifle Erdogan’s election domination. The party is currently busy campaigning against Turkey’s invasion of Syria, dubbed Operation Peace Spring.
Back in Syria, Syrian Kurdish militias came to an agreement with the Syrian government on October 13, to jointly combat the Turkish invasion. The agreement specifies that the Syrian Arab Army will control and defend the entire area from Jarablus on the Euphrates River to Syria’s far eastern border with Iraq.
Advocates of U.S. intervention claim that the Kurds were fighting and dying “for us.” Yet, they were defending their own community. The extent to which they accepted and welcomed U.S. air support, equipment, weaponry, etc. was to their own benefit, not a favor to the United States. There were two parties using each other for their own benefit.
Whenever the United States attacks or occupies a country, it needs a rationalization. In 1991, it was false claims about incubators being stolen by Iraqi troops in Kuwait. In 2003, there were false claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In 2011 there were false claims of civilians being threatened by Libyan troops in Benghazi. All these claims were subsequently found to be either greatly exaggerated or entirely false.
One of the main justifications for a continued U.S. presence in Syria is that we must keep our word and not abandon Kurdish forces. This is a favorite rationalization for war. In Cuba, the CIA-trained Cuban exiles that attacked Playa Giron “were counting on us.” Fortunately, JFK resisted the pressure and said no. In Vietnam, the U.S. continued the war for a decade because “we could not let down our ally,” the governments of Saigon. Millions of Vietnamese were killed and 55,000 U.S. troops lost their lives because we could not “abandon” a government that was, in reality, little more than a proxy.
During the October 15 Democratic Debates, Joe Biden said that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria was “the most shameful thing any president had done in modern history in terms of foreign policy.” This is absurd. Over one million died in Iraq including 4,500 and at least 100,000 severely injured U.S. soldiers. Joe Biden was an influential supporter of the 2003 Iraq invasion. Later, as Vice President, he supported the overthrow of the Libyan government. The country is still in chaos with tens of thousands dead. These two countries were devastated by U.S. action. It is evidence of shameless unaccountability in media and politics that Biden is a serious candidate for President after having destroyed so many lives at a cost of trillions of taxpayer dollars. In the same Democratic debates, Tulsi Gabbard was honest and accurate as she said that the plight of the Kurds in northern Syria is “yet another consequence of the regime change war we’ve been waging in Syria.”
Despite the howls of indignation and disinformation, withdrawing U.S. troops from northern Syria is a step in the right direction.
Feature photo | A Syrian boy selling snacks looks at a U.S. soldier standing guard in the so-called “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey, near Tal Abyad, Syria, Sept. 8, 2019. Maya Alleruzzo | AP
Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist who has visited Syria several times since 2014. He lives in the SF Bay Area and can be reached at email@example.com
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