Michael M. Gunter and M. Hakan Yavuz
Dr. Gunter is a professor of political science at Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville. Dr. Yavuz is a professor of political science at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City.
On October 9, 2019, after many false starts, Turkey finally drove into a small section of northeastern Syria in an attempt to establish a “safe zone” to end what it claimed to be an existential Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) threat to its territorial integrity. President Donald J. Trump’s decision to pull out some 1,000 U.S. troops acting as advisers, supporters and protectors of the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party/Peoples Defense Units/Syrian Democratic Forces (PYD/YPG/SDF), or simply the Syrian Kurds, triggered the Turkish incursion. Widespread condemnation of Turkey and Trump quickly ensued. Detractors argued that the United States had (1) dishonorably deserted its Syrian Kurdish ally, (2) alienated future allies who would no longer trust it, (3) allowed some of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) prisoners incarcerated by YPG guards to escape and potentially revive the genocidal jihadist organization, (4) rewarded Turkish aggression, (5) handed the murderous but exhausted Assad regime new life, (6) facilitated Iran’s drive to the Mediterranean and potential threat to Israel, and, maybe most of all, (7) empowered Russia as the ultimate arbitrator of the Syrian imbroglio, to the detriment of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The purpose of this article is to set the background to this problematic situation and analyze its immediate and long-term implications.
Although Syria is an ancient land, the modern state only dates from the borders fashioned by the secretive British-French Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 and the subsequent French mandate of the League of Nations established in 1920. Before that, the Kurds of modern-day Turkey, Iraq and Syria had all simply lived in the Ottoman Empire. The concept of the Kurds in Syria could only become meaningful after the French mandate had been created and, even later, after failed Kurdish uprisings during the 1920s in Turkey had forced many Kurds to leave for Syria. Even today, many Kurds in Turkey and Syria do not refer to themselves as coming from those states, but rather as belonging to either above or below the line (border). Developments in Turkey have always had a profound influence on the Kurdish situation in Syria. This continues today.
Slightly more than 2.2 million Kurds, approximately 10 percent of the Syrian population, may live in Syria,1 a much smaller number than live in Turkey, Iraq and Iran. Although the largest ethnic minority in Syria, the Kurds live in three noncontiguous areas and, until the Syrian civil war began on March 11, 2011, were much less well-organized than in the other three states. For many years, the repressive government of Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar also sought to maintain an Arab belt between Syria’s Kurds and those in Turkey and Iraq. This Arab belt artificially separated ethnic kin and in many cases actual blood relatives across the border and uprooted them.
Many Kurds in Syria have even been denied citizenship on the problematic grounds that they had originally come from Turkey. For example, Decree 93 of 1962 classified some 120,000 Kurds as ajanib (foreigners) who could not vote, own property or work in government jobs. As this status was inherited, the number of ajanib may now be more than 300,000. Furthermore, some 75,000 other Syrian Kurds became labeled as maktoumeen (concealed), with even fewer civil rights than the ajanib. In addition, a government decree in September 1992 prohibited the registration of children with Kurdish first names. Kurdish cultural centers, bookshops and similar institutions have also been banned. Finally, Articles 10, 11, 15 and 20 of the Baathist Party’s constitution provided for an exclusive Arab nationalism that made any other political or even social groups like the Kurds not sharing this belief illegal.
The theoretical justification for these discriminatory measures was a clandestine treatise published on November 12, 1963, by Lieutenant Muhammad Talib Hilal, chief of the Syrian security police in the province of Hasaka (Jazira). A look at some of this book’s main points is enlightening as to why many Kurds in Syria feel alienated from that state.2
The bells of alarm in Jazira call on Arab conscience to save this region, purify it and rid it of the dirt and historical refuse [the Kurds] of history in order to preserve the riches of this Arab territory. People such as the Kurds — who have no history, civilization, language or ethnic origin — are prone to committing violence and destruction, as are all mountain people. The Kurdish question advanced by them has become a malignant tumor on the side of the Arab nation and must be removed.
The imperialists are trying to legitimize the Kurdish question as they did that of the state of Israel. Soon after the civil war began, the Assad regime was on the ropes. Sixteen months later, on July 19, 2012, Assad suddenly pulled most of his troops out of the Kurdish regions to concentrate on holding his position to the west around Damascus and his ancestral Alawite homeland. The previously unheard-of Syrian Kurds were basically ruling themselves. Their resulting autonomy caused great apprehension in Turkey; suddenly PKK flags were flying just across its southern border. What had been just a common frontier with the much more pliable Iraqi Kurds — largely led by Masoud Barzani — had abruptly metastasized into one with the Syrian Kurds — largely led by the PKK-affiliated PYD and its military arm, the YPG. Ankara feared that this newly established Kurdish position would serve as a model for Turkey’s own disaffected Kurds and the PKK.
The emergence of the sectarian government in Iraq and the civil war in Syria created fertile ground for the emergence of ISIS in 2014. It attacked the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds as well as the United States and other Western interests. The United States desperately sought boots on the ground for support and, after a number of fiascoes, finally found the Kurds, to the chagrin of the Turks. U.S. air power and military advice helped the Syrian Kurdish PYD/YPG/SDF forces — ironically, supported by the PKK, which, according to the United States, Turkey and the European Union (EU), is a terrorist organization — to defeat ISIS. The mission accomplished, Trump suddenly announced the U.S. withdrawal on October 7, 2019. This tacitly allowed the Turks to enter portions of northeastern (Kurdish) Syria, claiming to alleviate the Kurdish threat on its southern border by carving out a safety zone and establishing a potential space for the return of some 3.6 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey.
THE PYD/YPG/SDF–PKK RELATIONSHIP
The Assad regime in Syria began supporting the PKK back in the 1970s as a way to pressure Turkey over water rights and Hatay, a Turkish province Syria claimed.3 Finally, in 1998, Turkey threatened to go to war against Syria unless it expelled the PKK; and, under the terms of the Adana Agreement, Syria did so. (The Adana Agreement — signed by Süleyman Demirel and Hafez al-Assad — ensured that the government of Syria would not allow any terrorist group to be protected in Syria). Turkey captured PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in Kenya a few months later and has held him prisoner ever since. Nevertheless, the PKK had established deep roots within Syria; many PKK fighters came from Syria, where Assad had allowed them sanctuary in return for their promise not to challenge his regime.
Syrian Kurds sympathetic to the PKK established the PYD in 2003. Given its inherently powerful base and PKK affiliation, the PYD quickly became the dominant Kurdish party in Syria. Its military arm, the YPG, was key to this project. In 2011, Ferhat Abdi Sahin (code-named Sahin Cilo [Cello], a.k.a General Mazlum Abdi Kobane) — a seasoned, high-ranking PKK military commander with considerable political experience in Europe during the 1990s — returned to his native Syria and assumed command of the YPG.4 This PKK connection helps explain how the previously impotent Syrian Kurds became such a formidable fighting force, even before gaining the de facto alliance with the United States in 2014 during ISIS’s failed siege of Kobane. In addition, despite being placed on the U.S. terrorist list, largely to please NATO ally Turkey, the PKK collaborated with the United States and the Iraqi Kurds to combat ISIS when it struck the Yezidis in Sinjar in August 2014.5 Without PKK intervention, the Yezidis would have suffered much more; the Iraqi Kurds proved slow to act, and the United States contributed only air support.
On the PYD political front, Salih Muslim, a chemical engineer fluent in English, had become active in the Kurdish movement during the 1970s while an engineering student at Istanbul Technical University.6 Upon graduation, he worked as an engineer in Saudi Arabia, only returning to Syria in the 1990s. Although he first joined the well-established but largely powerless Kurdish Democratic Party of Syria, he left in 2003 because of its lack of success to join the newly created and more promising PYD. He quickly became a member of its executive council and co-chair in 2010. However, Muslim was soon forced to flee into the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan to a camp maintained by the PYD and PKK. For whatever reasons, the Assad government allowed him to return to Syria in April 2011, just after the civil war began. This apparent complicity with the regime led some to accuse Muslim and the PYD of acting as shabiha, thuggish militiamen of Assad.7 Instead, as he argued more accurately, Muslim and the PYD followed a third path between the Assad regime and its opponents. This proved to be a complicated, but necessary, strategy for survival in Syria’s Hobbesian civil war of all against all.
Once Turkey began supporting the Syrian Arab uprising against the regime, Assad began playing the PKK card again against Turkey, lifting the longstanding restrictions against the Syrian Kurds previously mentioned.8 The PYD and co-chair Muslim strongly opposed Turkish influence on the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) and Barzani-backed Kurdish National Council (KNC), regarding them as Turkey’s hireling army of jihadists.9 Indeed, evidence showed that Turkey was surreptitiously aiding jihadists and even ISIS.10
On the other hand, evidence also illustrated that the PYD was using violence against other Syrian Kurdish parties to bolster its position. 11For his part, Muslim went so far as to declare that Turkey, the supporter of the SNC, was a greater enemy than Assad.12 However, Muslim denied supporting Assad and pointed to members of the PYD being detained by the regime and his own denunciations of it.13 These actions illustrated the PYD attempt to follow a third way. Indeed, in a preview of its subsequent struggles and the Turkish incursion of October 2019, at the end of October 2012, 30 people were reported killed in Aleppo during fighting between the PYD/YPG and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the military arm of the SNC supported by Turkey.14
In a wide-ranging interview held in November 2011, Muslim blamed Turkey for spreading rumors that the PYD was behind several assassinations in Syria of Kurdish leaders, such as Mishaal Tammo, whose murder a month earlier had caused widespread consternation among the Syrian Kurdish community.15 Despite these problems, Muslim responded via email to this author, “I would like to state that the Kurdish Forces (YPG and its security police, the Asayish) are in [a] self-defense position [and] never attacked the others.”16
However, the PYD co-chair also readily admitted, “We apply Apo’s [imprisoned PKK leader Ocalan] philosophy and ideology to Syria.” He also declared, “We have put forth a project called democratic autonomy.” This term, of course, came right out of Ocalan’s latest books, published in English.17 Soon the PYD had established a number of grassroots governing bodies, supposedly to implement Ocalan’s new theories on local government. Further illustrating the PKK connection, its umbrella organization — the Kurdistan Community Union (KCK) — was said to have coordinated PKK activities with the PYD and other lesser affiliates in Iran and Iraq. Criticizing the Syrian-opposition SNC for signing an agreement with Turkey, Muslim added, “We consider anyone who does not publicly take a stand against the Turkish position to be one of Turkey’s henchmen.”18
Despite these important connections between the PYD and the PKK, the two remain separate organizations. Divided for nearly a century into two distinct states, Syrian Kurds have traversed different paths to their current situations and thus often respond to diverse appeals and interests.19
On July 25, 2013, amid reports that the PYD was about to declare Kurdish autonomy in Syria, Turkey publicly invited Muslim to Istanbul for talks. According to some high-ranking Turkish officials, Muslim was a “Turkish asset” when he was a student in Istanbul, and Turkish intelligence kept close ties with him until 2015. In fact, it was the Turkish side that introduced Muslim to the United States. The PYD leader hastened to assure Turkey that his party’s call for local administration of Syria’s Kurdish regions did not mean it was seeking the kind of independence that would threaten Turkey.20 Although he had previously held secret meetings with Turkish officials, this new and highly visible encounter represented a potential road to cooperation in Turkish-PYD relations. Coming at the same time that Turkey had opened peace talks with the PKK in Turkey, these additional talks with the PYD represented a logical extension of the overall peace process between the two, as well as a tacit Turkish admission that the PYD and PKK were separate enough to warrant separate discussions. Indeed, Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, explained that his country’s new approach was in line with its ongoing decision to talk with PKK leader Ocalan about ending his organization’s three-decade insurgency.21 Another Turkish official added, “We have no problem with their [the PYD’s] aspirations. ... What we do not want from any group is that they use this situation opportunistically to impose their will by force.”22 Ismail Arslan, the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) mayor of Ceylanpinar, just across the border in Turkey, elaborated: Turkey “has seen that treating the Kurds like an enemy and supporting groups like Nusra [the al-Qaeda affiliate in the Syrian civil war] is not good for Turkey.”
Upon its conclusion, Muslim claimed his meeting had been positive and that he had conversed about security in the border regions with his Turkish interlocutors. He then listed the following specific points that had been discussed: (1) opening borders and border security; (2) distributing humanitarian aid; (3) explaining the PYD project for interim government; and (4) demonstrating that the PYD proposals on interim local government were not a threat to Turkey. Two weeks later, the PYD leader followed up his talks in Istanbul with a second round in Ankara. These talks illustrated that Ankara was uncertain how far a new relationship should proceed. Should Turkey go as far with the PYD as it had with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq and now seemed to be going with the PKK peace process? Should Turkey stop its implicit support for the Nusra jihadists? Might Turkey even realize that its fears of the inherently weak Syrian Kurds were overblown and seek instead to coopt them as it had the Iraqi Kurds?
Further cooperation concerning the removal of the tomb of Suleyman Shah illustrates this road toward collaboration and peace.23 According to most historians, Suleyman Shah (c. 1178-1236) was the grandfather of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire. The end of World War I left Suleyman Shah’s tomb within the new state of Syria. However, the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) and an earlier treaty signed in 1921 between France and Turkey provided that the tomb would be a Turkish enclave within Syria, a position not fully recognized later by independent Syria. When ISIS’s iconoclastic campaign against monuments seemed to be threatening the tomb, Turkey, with PYD cooperation (although denied by Turkey), successfully relocated the tomb closer to the Turkish border on February 22, 2015.
Unfortunately, this was the same time that the Turkish-PKK peace talks were breaking down.24 Turkey continued to allow foreign jihadists to traverse its territory to reach Syria and stood by idly while ISIS sought to destroy Kobane, the Syrian Kurdish city on the Turkish border during the epic siege that ran from October 2014 to January 2015. Only U.S. air support and Kurdish resistance enabled the Kurds to survive and then begin pushing back and winning. However, the U.S. support for the PYD/YPG/SDF soon led to a crisis in U.S.-Turkish relations.
When the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) won enough seats in the Turkish parliamentary elections of June 7, 2015, to deny Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) a renewed majority, Erdogan opportunistically ended the PKK peace process and opted for an alliance with Turkish ultra-nationalists. The strategy worked: Erdogan quickly regained his majority in the snap parliamentary elections he held on November 1, 2015. Turkish cooperation with the PYD proved to be the road not taken. Their relations swiftly declined, with Turkey and its Arab allies first invading the Syrian Kurdish province of Afrin on January 21, 2018, and conquering it by March 2018, then continuing the process that led to the incursion into Syria of October 9, 2019.
Among the many elements of Syria’s Hobbesian war of all against all was the threat that U.S. troops would be pitted against those of Turkey, its supposed NATO ally. The United States had armed and continued to support the Syrian Kurdish-led and PKK-affiliated SDF/PYD/YPG forces against ISIS, Kurdish forces that Turkey viewed as an existential threat to its territorial integrity. With the victory of these U.S.-supported Kurdish forces over ISIS by the end of 2017, the United States drew further Turkish ire by announcing it would train and support some 30,000 SDF troops as border guards.25 However, given the immediate Turkish pushback, this proposal was shelved.
On January 20, 2018, Turkish troops with their Syrian-opposition allies (the Free Syrian Army) launched a military operation — ironically named Operation Olive Branch — entering Afrin, the isolated third Kurdish canton on Syria’s northwestern border, and finally occupying the region on March 17, 2018. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, 1,500 Kurdish fighters died along with 289 civilians, while only 46 Turkish soldiers and their allies were killed.26 The Kurds accused Turkey “of Turkification ... after its occupation of Afrin city, to change the demography of Afrin Canton and replace it with Turkish identity.”27 In a reference to the famous Turkish victory of World War I, Erdogan replied, “In Gallipoli they attacked us with the most powerful army,” while “now that they 28do not have the courage to do so, they come at us with the world’s basest, bloodiest, specially trained and equipped terrorist organisations.” The Turkish president even warned, “Now we will continue this process until we entirely eliminate this corridor, including in Manbij, Ayn al-Arab [Kobane], Tel-Abyad, Ras al-Ayn [Sere Kaniyeh] and Qamishli.”29
No better illustration of Turkey’s increasingly problematic policies in Syria could be given than the spectacle of Turkey, a U.S. NATO ally, needing permission from Russia, NATO’s main adversary, before acting. But Russia controlled the skies over Afrin and, in effect, had been partially protecting it as part of its goal of preserving Syrian unity under Hafez al-Assad. Now, however, Russia decided not to oppose the Turkish incursion in exchange for Turkish backing of Russia’s overall aims in Syria, such as weakening U.S. influence, pushing the Kurds to negotiate with Damascus and strengthening Russian-Turkish cooperation to the detriment of NATO.30
Of course, Turkish animus toward the Syrian Kurds was nothing new. Earlier, on August 26, 2016, Turkish troops had entered Syria to the east of Afrin to prevent the Syrian Kurds from crossing the Euphrates and driving west to unite with Afrin. At that time, Operation Euphrates Shield managed to prevent these Kurdish ambitions. However, despite U.S. promises to its putative NATO ally Turkey, the Syrian Kurds did not immediately retreat to the east of the river. The SDF continued to hold the city of Manbij on the west side with U.S. troops as advisers who the United States said would stand their ground against any Turkish offensive.31
Given the situation, the U.S. troops could have found themselves under direct attack from their NATO ally if Erdogan had actually carried out his promise to “strangle ... before it is born” the U.S.-backed SDF border-security force.32 The Turkish president even threatened that “we will rid Manbij of terrorists, as was promised to us before. Our battles will continue until no terrorist is left right up to our border with Iraq.”33 Exuding outrage in reference to the U.S. support for the SDF, the Turkish president also asked rhetorically, “How can a strategic partner do such a thing to its strategic partner?” 34He even threatened to give the U.S. troops “an Ottoman slap,”35 employing a Turkish saying for an incapacitating blow.
Erdogan, of course, did not actually want to attack U.S. forces. His likely real aim was to end U.S. support for the SDF, collect the weapons the group had received from the United States and force the Kurds to withdraw east of the Euphrates. Probably more important, his bellicose attitude was intended for domestic consumption, to boost his support in Turkey for the snap presidential and parliamentary elections he suddenly called and won on June 24, 2018. It was not the first time the Turkish president had opted for a bellicose position toward the Syrian Kurds to bolster his domestic fortunes, nor would it be the last.
While the worst has so far been averted, it was obvious that the two largest NATO armies were playing with fire. In addition, the U.S.-Turkish standoff threatened to allow ISIS to begin a revival as well as emboldening such U.S. and NATO adversaries as Russia, Iran and Syria, among others. Adding further uncertainty to the issue, at the end of March 2018, Trump suddenly declared that the United States might soon pull all of its approximately 2,000 troops out of Syria and ordered the State Department to suspend more than $200 million in civilian infrastructure and stabilization-recovery funds for eastern (largely Kurdish) Syria.36 This, of course, completely contradicted and confused the president’s top advisers — both those fired and newly hired — as well as U.S. allies. Eventually, Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS, tried to clarify the situation when he told reporters on August 17, 2018, “We’re remaining in Syria.”37
Furthermore, in June 2018 the United States and Turkey reached an understanding that the SDF/YPG forces would begin pulling out of Manbij, to be replaced by separate coordinated U.S. and Turkish patrols on the western side of the area.38 This agreement temporarily reduced the possibility of a military clash between the two NATO allies. Of course, this would only be the beginning, as Turkey declared that the Manbij model eventually would also be applied in Syria to Raqqa, Kobane and other important areas controlled by the Syrian Kurdish PYD/YPG — a roadmap certain to be rejected by the Syrian Kurds. Thus, the onus would again fall upon the United States to decide whether to support its de facto Syrian Kurdish ally or its de jure NATO ally. The long-term possibility of a U.S.-Turkish military clash remained.
Moreover, Trump compounded this confusion when he again suddenly announced on December 19, 2018, that he had decided to withdraw from Syria,39 apparently leaving the door open for Turkey, Syria, Russia and Iran to move in — to the detriment of the Syrian Kurds. On the other hand, there was immediate pushback in the United States against Trump’s decision.40 McGurk and Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned in protest. The mercurial Trump soon partially reversed himself and decided to keep a residual force of 400 troops.41
During the summer of 2019, the United States and Turkey continued to dicker over creating a safe zone in northeastern Syria that would allow Turkey to protect its borders from the perceived threat from Syrian Kurdish SDF/YPG forces and provide a secure place for some of the increasingly problematic 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey to return home.42 On September 8, 2019, Turkey and the United States finally initiated their first joint ground patrol in an apparently emerging safe zone on the Syrian side of the border east of the Euphrates near Tel Abyad.43 The SDF forces had withdrawn some nine miles from the border and removed their defensive positions. However, the extent of the safe zone was uncertain. Erdogan also remained dissatisfied, declaring, “It is clear that our ally [the United States] is trying to create a safe zone for the terrorist organization [the SDF/YPG], not for us.”44 Further complicating the situation, the Syrian government condemned the joint patrol as “aggression.”
Trump’s new announcement of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria on October 7, 2019,45 has led to a major change in the situation by allowing Turkey finally to establish a small safety zone 20 miles deep, stretching approximately 75 miles along the Syrian-Turkish border between the cities of Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn.46 This has resulted in strategic but conflicting gains for Moscow, Ankara and the Assad regime, while the Syrian Kurds have experienced significant losses. Mazloum Abdi, the overall YPG/SDF military commander, admitted that he was willing to ally with the Assad regime to save the Kurdish population in northern Syria from what he termed a “genocide,”47 though such an alliance would probably end the hard-won Syrian Kurdish autonomy. Assad and the Syrian public see the Kurds as a fifth column, a destabilizing factor serving the interests of major powers. Salih Muslim, the former PYD co-chair and still a prominent foreign-affairs spokesperson, declared, “We will not accept the occupation of northern Syria.”48
As the Turkish offensive largely drew to a close by October 22, the respected Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that more than 300,000 civilians had been displaced, 477 fighters on all sides killed (266 SDF, 196 pro-Turkish militias, the remainder presumably Turkish), and 120 civilians killed by Turkish and pro-Turkish forces.49 In addition, Amnesty International declared that Turkey and Turkish-backed Syrian forces “have displayed a shameful disregard for civilian life, carrying out serious violations and war crimes, including summary killings and unlawful attacks that have killed and injured civilians.”50 For example, the Turkish-backed Islamist militia Ahrar al-Sharqiya executed Hevrin Khalaf, the female Secretary General of the Future Syria Party, and eight other civilians at an M4 highway roadblock south of Tel Abyad.51 Yeni Safak, a Turkish newspaper, reported the killing as a “successful operation” against a politician affiliated with a “terrorist” organization.52 Critics of Turkey accused it of attempting to force “violent demographic re-engineering”53 or ethnic cleansing, while Turkish authorities replied that they were only correcting the demographics the PYD/YPG/SDF had previously altered.54 Erdogan also claimed that the new Turkish safety zone would “allow the [Syrian] refugees we have to return to their lands,”55 a dubious proposition given the dangerous security conditions.
I. In the short run, Erdogan’s popularity in Turkey has soared, and he has regained strength after his losses in the local elections held in March and June 2019.56 However, it seems unlikely Russia will permit Turkey to extend its safety zone much further against the wishes of its Syrian ally, who, of course, wants to regain all its lost territory. Indeed, as Turkey has only managed to enter Syria with the permission of Russia, its perceived gains from the U.S. withdrawal are only partial and may well be only temporary. The United States too will likely oppose further Turkish incursions into Syria, given the outcry they have aroused.
Turkey has also suffered diplomatic condemnation and isolation from the ruthlessness its Syrian proxy forces 57 exhibited, posting videos of themselves killing Kurds, looting their homes and shops, and creating new refugee problems for Syrian Kurds who had successfully fought ISIS. Even the famously pro-Turkish former U.S. ambassador James Jeffrey told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee: “We’ve seen several incidents which we consider war crimes,” including ethnic cleansing, the use of white phosphorus on noncombatants and the execution of civilians, among others.58 Already burdened by economic woes, what will the Turkish public begin to think when the bill for Erdogan’s Syrian gamble arrives and economic sanctions are imposed by the United States and the EU?
II. For its part, the United States apparently has also suffered potentially negative effects.59 Indeed, as U.S. troops withdrew, locals threw rotten produce and shouted insults at them, illustrating their sense of betrayal.60 Army Green Berets who had supported the Kurds exclaimed that “they felt ashamed at how the United States had treated the Kurds.”61
To understand Trump’s position, it first would be useful to appreciate the background role of the U.S. national character.62 For most of its history, isolationism or detachment regarding foreign-policy entanglements, along with a self-righteous zeal about its own exceptionalism and an aversion to entangling alliances, characterized the U.S. style. War, of course, constituted an exception to such isolation. However, the return of peace required a reversion to its tradition of political detachment. The rise of the Soviet Union changed the international balance of power after World War II, but the traditional U.S. national style continued to influence its foreign-policy positions. By characterizing Syria as nothing more than “sand and death,”63 Trump was harkening back to themes that remain deeply ingrained in the American psyche. On the other hand, Trump’s green-lighting of Turkey’s incursion into Syria indicates an awareness of Turkey’s continuing geostrategic importance for the United States. The Kurds, whom he clumsily pointed out “didn’t help us with Normandy”64 in World War II, are less important to U.S. interests.
However, despite what he claimed was the “strategically brilliant”65 decision to withdraw U.S. soldiers, the unpredictable Trump still had “some 500 troops in the country, many of them in combat, for the foreseeable future.”66 General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the U.S. CENTCOM commander, explained, “We don’t have an end date” for how much longer American troops will remain in Syria, and relations with the Syrian Kurds were “pretty good.” U.S. forces would also be guarding the Syrian oil fields, which McKenzie expected would eventually lead to problems with the Syrian army.
Nevertheless, as noted above, by deserting its de facto Syrian Kurdish ally, the United States provoked questions of why others would support it in the future. Given its primacy in international politics, the United States cannot completely isolate itself. Rather, it should be smart about when and where it declines to commit and maintain troops. For example, the U.S. role in Afghanistan should have ended long ago following the death of Osama bin Laden. On the other hand, the modest U.S. role in Syria continues to yield rewards that strengthen the United States.
III. Hundreds of imprisoned ISIS fighters escaped their Syrian Kurdish guards, who had to fight for their own survival.67 The result might contribute to an ISIS resurgence, as occurred with captured jihadists in Iraq when the United States withdrew at the end of 2011.Nevertheless, on October 26, 2019, an American raid killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, in Idlib province in the west. By the end of November, U.S. soldiers and hundreds of Syrian Kurdish fighters had reunited to carry out “what the Pentagon said was a large-scale mission to kill and capture ISIS, fighters in Deir al-Zor province about 120 miles south of the Turkish border.”68
IV. Despite Trump’s tolerance for Turkey’s incursion, other U.S. actions discussed above have hurt the NATO alliance by nudging Turkey closer to Russia, NATO’s perceived foe. Erdogan has threatened to close its Incirlik air base, which houses U.S. nuclear warheads, in response to Trump’s occasional threats of economic sanctions. The Turkish president also declared he might close down the Kurecik radar base if necessary.69 Talk about suspending or expelling Turkey from the alliance would be problematic: the NATO treaty contains no such provisions.
Despite current problems, Turkey remains important for NATO’s many roles. For example, NATO’s ground command is located in Izmir, on Turkey’s Aegean shore. One of NATO’s high-readiness headquarters, commanding tens of thousands of troops, sits near Istanbul. The Turkish navy plays a major role in the Black Sea, especially important since Russia seized Crimea in 2014. Turkey still maintains some 600 troops in Afghanistan. U.S. nuclear bombers remain stationed in Turkey, while radar on Turkish territory watches the sky for potential missiles fired at Europe from Iran. As Ambassador James Jeffrey recently explained to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “When we consider the importance of Turkey.”70 This oft-cited comment simply summed up how the United States should take special care to understand the Turkish point of view and accommodate its perceived needs given Turkey’s continuing geostrategic importance. Indeed, as of February 2020, it seemed that “the pro-Turkey voices have now won out in discussions about Syria, arguing that Turkey is a NATO ally,” and that therefore the United States should pivot “back to a Turkey-first foreign policy in regards to Syria, to slowly jettison parts of what they see as the problematic Kurdish region of eastern Syria and engage in big power politics to confront the Russians and Iranians.”71
V. Trump’s erratic behavior has also encouraged Iran to maintain and even solidify its position in Syria, where previously U.S. troops had partially checked the Islamic Republic’s movement toward the Mediterranean. Given his earlier animosity toward Iran regarding nuclear weapons and its support for terrorism, Trump’s willingness to withdraw troops opposing Iran’s ambitions in Syria and potential threats against the Israeli border is quixotic.
VI. Russia’s apparent gains have yet to be consolidated and may prove illusive or even metastasize into another Afghanistan disaster. Already reports indicate that Syrian Kurdish protesters threw rocks and shoes at joint armored Turkish-Russian patrols.72 Balancing the conflicting goals of its supposed partners Syria, Turkey and Iran will prove increasingly difficult. Russian President Vladimir Putin is a clever person; however, already estimated to be paying “no less than $3 million daily since 2015”73 for his Syrian adventure, he clearly lacks the necessary $250 billion to $1 trillion to rebuild a broken Syria.74 As former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell once famously quipped: “You break it, you own it.”75 Will Syria’s putative new arbiter, Putin, allow himself to be saddled with this crippling financial burden? Since the United States clearly wants out, and the Assad regime remains internationally despised, who is going to step up to the financial plate?
VII. Turkey’s incursion threatens the continuing existence of PYD/YPG/SDF territory (Rojava) as an autonomous entity. To ward off the Turkish offense, for example, Mazloum Abdi, overall SDF commander of some 70,000 troops, announced his willingness to work with the Assad regime and Russia in order to, in his words, make painful compromises to protect the Kurds from Turkey’s and its Syrian proxy mercenaries’ potential “genocide.”76 Elsewhere, Abdi stated he also would be willing to work through a federal system.77 As part of the understanding, Assad’s troops were given permission to enter the previously SDF-controlled cities of Manbij and Kobane to deter further Turkish advances. Turkey has criticized the United States for treating Abdi as a “legitimate political figure” and declared that if he took up a Trump invitation to visit the United States, Turkey would ask for his extradition.78 Nevertheless, although severely chastened, Rojava continues its Kurdish experiment and maintains a reserve of international support. It is doubtful that it will be dispatched to the abyss of the rejected and forgotten.
Only time will tell, of course, what the long-term implications of partial U.S. withdrawal will bring. As of this writing in February 2020, it remains unclear in which direction Turkish and U.S. foreign policy in Syria will eventually turn.
1 The leading background sources in English on the Kurds in Syria include Jordi Tejel, Syria’s Kurds: History, Politics and Society (London and New York: Routledge, 2009); Michael Gunter, Out of Nowhere: The Kurds of Syria in Peace and War (London: Hurst & Company, 2014); Harriet Allsopp, The Kurds of Syria: Political Parties and Identity in the Middle East (London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2014); and Harriet Allsopp and Wladimir van Wilgenburg, The Kurds of Northern Syria: Governance, Diversity and Conflicts (London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2019).
2The following excerpts were taken from a chapter published by the late and famous Kurdish scholar Ismet Cheriff Vanly, “The Oppression of the Kurdish People in Syria,” in Kurdish Exodus: From Internal Displacement to Diaspora, ed. Mohammed M.A. Ahmed and Michael M. Gunter (Sharon, MA: Ahmed Foundation for Kurdish Studies, 2001), 55-56.
3For background, see David McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds, 3rd ed. (London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2004); and, more recently, Michael M. Gunter, The Kurds: A Divided Nation in Search of a State, 3rd ed. (Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2019), among many other sources.
4 Mazloum Abdi, “If We Have to Choose between Compromise and Genocide, We Will Choose Our People,” Foreign Policy, October 13, 2019, https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/10/13/kurds-assad-syria-russia-putin-tur….
5Robin Wright, “How Trump Betrayed the General Who Defeated ISIS,” The New Yorker, April 4, 2019, https://www.newyorker.com/news/dispatch/how-trump-betrayed-the-general-…. See also Gunter, The Kurds, 181.
6For background, see Chase Winter, “Who Is Salih Muslim, the Syrian Kurdish Leader Wanted by Turkey?” Deutsche Welle, March 3, 2018, https://www.dw.com/en/who-is-salih-muslim-the-syrian-kurdish-leader-wan….
7Omar Hassino and Ilhan Tanir, “The Decisive Minority: The Role of Syria’s Kurds in the Anti-Assad Revolution,” A Henry Jackson Society Report, March 2012, http://henryjacksonsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/The-Decisive-….
8Emrullah Uslu, “How Kurdish PKK Militants Are Exploiting the Crisis in Syria to Achieve Regional Autonomy,” Terrorism Monitor 10, no. 7 (April 6, 2012), https://www.refworld.org/docid/4f854a6f2.html.
9Nabaz Shwany, “Is That Right to Accuse the PYD for Supporting Bashir Assad, or Its Just Turkish Psychological War against the PKK?” Ekurd Daily, March 7, 2012, https://ekurd.net/mismas/articles/misc2012/3/syriakurd437.htm.
10 Monica Marks, “ISIS and Nusra in Turkey: Jihadist Recruitment and Ankara’s Response,” Institute for Strategic Dialogue, 2016, https://www.academia.edu/32865020/ISIS_and_Nusra_in_Turkey_Jihadist_rec…. See also the comments of Marc Pierini, the former EU ambassador to Turkey, and John Kerry, the former U.S. secretary of state, in John Vandiver, “Europe’s Fear: Turkey’s Porous Border Serves as Gateway for ISIS’s Spread,” Stars and Stripes, July 5, 2014; and the comments of Joe Biden, the former U.S. vice president, in Deborah Amos, “A Smuggler Explains How He Helped Fighters along ‘Jihadi Highway,’” NPR, October 7, 2014, http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2014/10/07/354288389/a-smuggler-e…. See also Tim Arango and Eric Schmitt, “A Path to ISIS, Through a Porous Turkish Border,” New York Times, March 9, 2013; Emrullah Uslu, “Jihadist Highway to Jihadist Haven: Turkey’s Jihadi Policies and Western Security,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 39, no. 9 (2016); and Hardin Lang and Mutah Al Wari, “The Flow of Foreign Fighters to the Islamic State,” Center for American Progress, March 2016, https://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/17132821/Fo…, accessed December 24, 2019. Al Wari, “The Flow of Foreign Fighters to the Islamic State,” Center for American Progress, March 2016, https://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/17132821/Fo….
11 KurdWatch, “Press Release: On Our Own Behalf: KurdWatch Employee Threatened with Death,” August 13, 2013; KurdWatch ceased publishing on September 8, 2016 due to lack of funding; and “Protests of Kurdish Youth against PYD,” MESOP, August 10, 2013.
12 “Interview with Salih Muhammad, President of PYD,” Firat News, February 2012.
13 Pydrojava.net, April 12, 2012.
14 Peter Hartling, “Arab Rebel-Kurd Tensions,” Agence France Presse, October 31, 2012, http://www.mesop.de/arab-rebel-kurd-tensions-peter-hartling-internation….
15 “Turkey’s Henchmen in Syrian Kurdistan Are Responsible for the Unrest Here” Interview with Salih Muslim Muhammed by KurdWatch, Kurdistan Tribune, November 8, 2011, https://kurdistantribune.com/turkeys-henchmen-syrian-kurdistan-responsi….
16 Salih Muslim, email to Michael M. Gunter, July 10, 2013.
17See, for example, Abdullah Ocalan, Declaration on the Democratic Solution of the Kurdish Question (London: Mesopotamian Publishers, 1999); Prison Writings: The PKK and the Kurdish Question in the 21st Century, trans. and ed. Happel Klaus (London: Transmedia Publishing, 2011); and Prison Writings III: The Road Map to Negotiations, trans. Havin Guneser (Cologne: International Initiative Edition, 2012).
18Cited in “Turkey’s Henchmen.”
19See, for example, Metin Gurcan, “Is the PKK Worried by the YPG’s Growing Popularity?” Al-Monitor, November 7, 2019, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/11/turkey-syria-pkk-wor….
20Hemin Khoshnaw, “Salih Muslim’s Ankara Visit Marks Major Policy Change,” Rudaw, July 29, 2013, http://rudaw.net/english/middleeast/syria/29072013.
21 Fulya Ozerkan, “Turkey Softens Stance on Syria’s Emboldened Kurds after Launching Peace Process at Home,” Daily Star (Lebanon), August 9, 2013, http://www.dailystar.com.lb/ArticlePrint.aspx?id=226577.
23“Turkey Enters Syria to Remove Precious Suleyman Shah Tomb,” BBC News, February 22, 2015, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-31572257.
24For background, see Michael M. Gunter, “The Kurdish Issue in Turkey: Back to Square One?” Turkish Policy Quarterly 14, no. 4 (Winter 2016), 77-86.
25 Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, “Dispatch: The Syrian Democratic Forces’ Border Guards,” Middle East Forum, January 20, 2018, https://www.meforum.org/7174/the-syrian-democratic-forces-border-guards.
26“Where Next? Turkey Takes Afrin,” The Economist, March 24, 2018, 42
27Cited in Democratic Self-Administration in Rojava, North Syria, “The Turkish Occupation Policy of Turkification and Demographic Change in Afrin,” April 23, 2018.
28Cited in “Where Next? Turkey Takes Afrin.”
29Cited in Jonathan Spyer, “The Sultan’s Pleasure: Turkey Expands Its Operations in Syria and Iraq,” Jerusalem Post, March 31, 2018, https://jonathanspyer.com/2018/03/31/the-sultans-pleasure-turkey-expand….
30For background to the evolving Turkish relationship with Russia, see Dmitry Shlapentokh, “The Ankara-Moscow Relationship: The Role of Turkish Stream,” Middle East Policy 26, no. 2 (Summer 2019), 72- 84.
31 Emre Peker and Julian E. Barnes, “NATO to Try ‘Kitchen Table’ to Soothe U.S.-Turkey Dispute,” Wall Street Journal, February 11, 2018, http://www.wsj.com/articles/nato-to-try-kitchen-table-to-soothe-u-s-tur….
32Cited in “An Unhappy Marriage,” The Economist, February 3, 2018, 43.
33Cited in “Turkish Operations in Syria to Reach Up to Manbij and Iraqi Border: Erdogan,” Hurriyet Daily News, January 26, 2016, http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-operations-in-syria-to-reach-u….
34Cited in Ibid.
35Cited in “Muzzling the Fourth Estate,” The Economist, March 3, 2018, 45. Some 16 Turkish newspapers featured this warning on their front pages the next day! Ibid. “While unlikely, it is no longer inconceivable that Turkey and the United States would one day be shooting at each other,” speculated one close observer. Michael Rubin, “The U.S. and Turkey Could Go to War,” Washington Examiner, April 17, 2018, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/the-us-and-turkey-could-go-t….
36 Eric Schmitt, Helene Cooper and Alissa J. Rubin, “Trump Orders State Dept. to Suspend Funds for Syria Recovery,” New York Times, March 30, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/30/world/middleeast/syria-us-coaltion-d….
37Cited in Robin Wright, “ISIS Makes a Comeback — As Trump Opts to Stay in Syria,” New Yorker, August 30, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/isis-makes-a-comebackas-trump-….
38“YPG Confirms Withdrawal from Syria’s Manbij after Turkey-U.S. Deal,” Al Jazeera, June 5, 2018, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/06/ypg-confirms-withdrawal-syria-ma….
39Ben Hubbard, “Syria’s Kurds, Feeling Betrayed by the U.S., Ask Assad Government for Protection,” New York Times, December 28, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/28/world/middleeast/syria-kurds-turkey-….
40Brett McGurk, “Trump Said He Beat ISIS. Instead, He’s Giving It New Life,” Washington Post, January 18, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/trump-said-hed-stay-in-syria-to-….
41Jack Detsch, “Pentagon Tries to Reassure Kurdish Allies amid Syria Pullout Confusion,” Al-Monitor, February 22, 2019, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/02/pentagon-reassure-ku….
42Carlotta Gall, “U.S. and Turkey Avoid Conflict by Agreeing on Buffer Zone in Syria,” New York Times, August 7, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/07/world/middleeast/us-turkey-peace-cor….
43Sarah El Deeb, “Turkey, U.S. Conduct ‘Safe Zone’ Joint Patrols in North Syria,” The Associated Press, September 8, 2019, https://apnews.com/b6e7c9b282844b92bed9a2e5bc7703d9.
44Cited in Ibid.
45 Peter Baker and Lara Jakes, “Trump Throws Middle East Policy into Turmoil over Syria,” New York Times, October 7, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/07/us/politics/turkey-syria-trump.html.
46Mona Yacoubian, “In Syria, Russian-Turkish Deal Is a Game Changer on the Ground,” United States Institute of Peace, October 23, 2019, https://www.usip.org/publications/2019/10/syria-russian-turkish-deal-ga….
47Mazloum Abdi, “If We Have to Choose between Compromise and Genocide, We Will Choose Our People,” Foreign Policy, October 13, 2019, https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/10/13/kurds-assad-syria-russia-putin-tur…. The Kurdish Red Crescent (Heyva Sor) argued that the pro-Turkish militias (Free Syrian Army/Syrian National Army) attacking the Syrian Kurds were “a composite militia created by Turkey from various Sunni Muslim Arab and Turkmen militias ... [and] have been found in the past to have committed war crimes. The majority have direct or indirect relations to the Islamic State (IS).” Kongra Star Statistics and Research Committee Qamishlo, “Effects of the Turkish Invasion of North and East Syria on Women and Children,” 3. “These human rights violations, war crimes and destruction of civilian life ... amount to genocide and femicide,” Ibid., 4.
48Bethan McKernan and Julian Borger, “Pence and Erdogan Agree on Ceasefire Plan but Kurds Reject ‘Occupation,’” The Guardian, October 17, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/17/us-delegation-seeks-syria….
49Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “12 Days of Operation ‘Peace Spring,’” October 21, 2019, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=144745. On October 17, Suleyman Soylu, the Turkish interior minister, declared that the SDF had launched over 980 mortar shells and rockets at Turkey since operations had begun killing 20 civilians. “Avrupa, teror orgutunum renberligni Kendisine Yol Tutmus,” Timeturk.com, https://www.timeturk.com/avrupa-teror-orgutunun-rehberligni-kendisine-y….
50Amnesty International, “Damning Evidence of War Crimes by Turkish Forces and Allies in Syria,” October 18, 2019, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/10/syria-damning-evidence-o….
51Liz Sly, “Turkish-Led Forces Film Themselves Executing a Kurdish Captive in Syria,” Washington Post, October 13, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/turkish-led-forces-fil….
53David Gardner, “Syria Is Witnessing a Violent Demographic Re-engineering,” Financial Times, October 2, 2019, https://www.ft.com/content/e40cb754-e456-11e9-b112-9624ec9edc59.
54Dominic Evans, “Turkey’s Plan to Settle Refugees in Northeast Syria Alarms Allies,” Reuters, October 8, 2019: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-security-turkey-refugees-graph…’s-plan-to-settle-refugees-in-northeast-syria-alarms-allies-idUSKBN1WN28J.
55Cited in Ibid.
56Aykan Erdemir, “Turkey’s Syria Campaign Serves Erdogan’s Electoral Ambitions,” Al Arabiya English, October 20, 2019, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/2019/10/20/Turkey-s-Syria-ca….
57Elizabeth Tsurkov, “Who Are Turkey’s Proxy Fighters in Syria?” New York Review of Books, November 27, 2019, https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2019/11/27/who-are-turkeys-proxy-fighters…. The Turkish proxy militias number “roughly 35,000 Syrian men ... a motley crew of often traumatized and impoverished men who feel pushed into fighting on Turkey’s behalf for financial gain.” Tsurkov adds, “the majority are internally displaced persons, from across Syria’s governorates.” Some of them even “once received support from the [failed] CIA-led Military Operations Command or the Department of Defense Train and Equip Program.” Ibid.
58Cited in Joshua Cossin, “U.S. Envoy to Syria Accuses Turkey of Committing War Crimes,” Jurist: Legal News & Research, October 25, 2019, https://www.jurist.org/news/2019/10/us-envoy-to-syria-accuses-turkey-of….
59Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper, “Hundreds of U.S. Troops Leaving, and Also Arriving in Syria,” New York Times, October 30, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/30/world/middleeast/us-troops-syria-tru….
60Sune Engel Rasmussen and Isabel Coles, “U.S. Troops Withdrawing from Syria Draw Scorn,” Wall Street Journal, October 21, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-troops-cross-into-iraq-as-they-withdra…; and Martin Chulov and Julian Borger, “Syrian Residents Pelt Retreating U.S. Troops with Food and Insults,” The Guardian, October 21, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/21/residents-of-syrian-city-….
61This citation and the following information were mostly taken from Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Resumes Large-Scale Operations against ISIS in Northern Syria,” New York Times, November 25, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/25/us/politics/us-syria-isis.html.
62On the concept of the U.S. national style, see Steven W. Hook and John Spanier, American Foreign Policy since World War II, 21st ed. (Los Angeles: CQ Press, 2019), 3-15. For further background, see Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965); and Robert Dallek, The American Style of Foreign Policy: Cultural Politics and Foreign Affairs (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983).
63Cited in Richard Hall, “Trump Says Syria Is ‘Sand and Death’ in Defence of Troop Withdrawal,” Independent, January 3, 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/trump-syria-troop-….
64Cited in “The World This Year,” The Economist, December 21, 2019, 16.
65Cited in “No Way to Say Goodbye,” The Economist, October 19, 2019, 22.
66This and the following data were largely garnered from Schmitt, “U.S. Resumes Large-Scale Operations;” and an interview with Jonathan Spyer (Israeli/British journalist and academic), EU Parliament (Brussels), December 11, 2019.
67“No Way to Say Goodbye,” The Economist, October 19, 2019, 22; and Robert Edwards, “‘Almost All Suspected ISIS Militants’ Escape Syria Camp: SDF,” Rudaw, October 13, 2019, https://www.rudaw.net/english/middleeast/syria/131020192.
68Schmitt, “U.S. Resumes Large-Scale Operations.”
69“Turkey Could Close Incirlik Air Base in Face of U.S. Threats: Erdogan,” Reuters, December 15, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-usa-sanctions-incirlik/turkey….
70Cited in bing.com/videos.
71Seth J. Frantzman, “US Seeks to Pivot to Turkey-first Policy on Syria,” The Jerusalem Post, February 12, 2020, https://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/US-seeks-to-pivot-to-Turkey-first-pol….
72“Kurds Hurl Rocks at Russian-Turkish Syria Patrol,” Agence France Presse, November 8, 2019, https://news.yahoo.com/kurds-hurl-rocks-russian-turkish-syria-patrol-14…; and Schmitt, “U.S. Resumes Large-Scale Operations.”
73Sami Moubayed, “Syria Needs $1 Trillion Dollars to Rebuild from the Ashes (and China Is Waiting),” National Interest, February 6, 2017, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/syria-needs-1-trillion-dolla….
74Somini Sengupta lists the lower estimate of $250 billion, Mark Townsend cites the middle figure of $400 billion and Sami Moubayed puts the cost at the upper limit. See Sengupta, “Help Assad or Leave Cities in Ruins? The Politics of Rebuilding Syria,” New York Times, December 3, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/03/world/middleeast/syria-war-rebuildin…; Townsend, “Rebuilding Syria,” Global Finance Magazine, April 9, 2019, https://www.gfmag.com/magazine/april-2019/rebuilding-syria; and Moubayed, “Syria Needs $1 Trillion.”
75Cited in Kathy Gilsinan, “The Pottery Barn Rule: Syria Edition,” The Atlantic, September 30, 2015, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/09/the-pottery-b….
76Abdi, “Compromise and Genocide.”
77Alex Rand, “From Kobane to Raqqa,” Middle East Studies Center, The Ohio State University College of Arts and Sciences.
78“Turkey Asks Trump to Hand Over the Commander of the Forces of ‘Democratic Syria,’” Teller Report, October 25, 2019, https://www.tellerreport.com/news/2019-10-25---turkey-asks-trump-to-han….
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