I have a colleague who provides an informed opinion on Turkey and the Kurds.
This Army Colonel (R) and military college professor was a Foreign Area Officer, lived in Turkey, and has studied the region the last 30 years:
“I note with more than a little consternation the current firestorm being inaccurately portrayed in the media, by Facebook pundits, and around water cooler circles about the angst over the Turkish military move into Syria and the "abandonment" of the Kurds by the current Administration.
Allow me to offer some insight you are more than welcome to take in to your classrooms for C500 (Strategic and Operational Planning)discussion of "understanding" to the OE (Operational Environment). From the viewpoint of someone who has watched this region almost as long as the Kurdish PKK has been a terrorist organization, it is apparent that many do not really understand this region...so here are some OE thoughts:
1. 'Abandonment of the Kurds" is a fallacy (appeal to emotion, false dilemma), and resonates because the West in general sees the "Kurds" from an emotional viewpoint. They are billed as the "largest ethnic group in the world without a homeland." Yes and no. There is a fallacy introduced when we start lumping all Kurds together into one group, rather like lumping all America Indians in the same manner. Journalists who report on international affairs (and should know better) go as far as to accord "the Kurds" with the apparent trappings of sovereignty consistent with a recognized Westphalian nation-state. This is not the cogent issue. The question in this discussion is more importantly: which Kurds, exactly, are we discussing? There are multiple factions, they speak three distinct languages/dialects, and aren't monolithic in the least. When "Kurds" aren't fighting the local non-Kurdish authorities (read: Turk, Iraqi, Iranian, Syrian governments), they squabble among themselves. The Syrian YPG is allied, for better or worse, with the PKK, and this has brought them squarely into the Turkish sights. The US decision to train and arm them had consequences. What seemed an expedient solution at the time now presents the Turks with a conundrum. As all politics are ultimately "local" the US withdrawal in a way is forcing the Turkish hand. The PKK is a recognized terror group and has been for decades, and has as a historical goal claims on Turkish sovereign soil (the Southeast). Turkey - a recognized country - has been fighting to maintain their territory and defeat PKK threats since the early '80s. The YPG is seen by Turkey as an extension of the PKK. This is a problem for Turkey. More to follow in para 2.d. below.
2. Not all PKK are Kurds. To continue the discussion of the PKK, they have been a pawn used and supported by others regional actors to destabilize the sovereign nation of Turkey. The Greek government has supported this group. So did the Syrian, Iranian, Russian governments, and other regional actors as well... For this reason consider the associated facts below from the TU perspective,
a. 40k +/- dead over the decades.
b. Instability that has led to wholesale reweaving of the fabric of Turkish society.
c. Challenges to planned economic growth in the SE thwarted by the PKK - negatively affecting local Kurds who did not support the organization's goals.
d. Instability in N Iraq as the PKK carved out a niche in the Qandil Mountains, displacing N. Iraqi Kurds in the process while establishing a safehaven there. No Iraqi Government capacity has existed since 1991 to counter them or patrol the TU-Iraq border. This is extremely important to understand. It plays directly into the current Turkish actions regarding Syria. Turkey does not desire a repeat to this whereby a lack of Syrian ability to exercise sovereign control sets the stage for another PKK safehaven.
3. This entire affair is an extension of ill-conceived US foreign policy to oust Saddam and all the fallout inherited by multiple administrations since 2003. The Turks are not exactly happy about having been put in the position of securing their own national interests because of feckless policy by others. They have borne the brunt of fallout from refugees and attendant instability since Provide Comfort in 1991. Now they have a lingering problem on their southern border with Syria - who knows what characters are moving back and forth more freely as a result of all this. The idea of a cordon sanitaire has been a consistent component of Turkish ideas to solve these border problems in Iraq, and now Syria, since 1991. It appears that the Turkish push into Syria entails the establishment of this cordon concept. Will it involve more? We'll see.
4. ISIS: Is the handwringing over the potential for 15,000 ISIS prisoners to escape a sideshow? Quite possibly. First of all, the high number is suspect. Second, Turkey certainly does not want this as a second or third order effect as a result of their actions. ISIS is also a threat for them. Finally, the concern over ISIS remains viable because of the very conditions that are precipitating the planned Turkish foray into Syria - that of an authority vacuum - served to allow operating space for the group to flourish in the first place.
5. Whatever happened to Assad? Does anyone find it remotely curious that any discussion of Syrian President Assad is missing in this entire discourse? The uprising started March, 2011. US and Turkish policy subsequent to this was essentially "Assad must go". 8.5 years later Assad is still in power. Also - and importantly - Russian and Iran are now in the mix propping him up. I can argue that the departure of 50 US soldiers from N. Syria is not the problem... The inability - or unwillingness of the International community and previously US administration - to deal with this power vacuum with anything other than stopgap measures is the larger problem. Now Iran, Russian, and Turkey are left to sort it out...on Syrian soil.
6. What are Turkey's interests in all of this? Turkey has tepidly supported US over the last few decades largely because they experience very tangible and negative second/third order effects from our actions. Iran's power has risen. Russian influence has been reintroduced on their Southern border. The PKK continues to thrive due to instability in Iraq. TU interests have remained remarkably consistent since 1991:
a. Protect Turkish sovereignty and territorial integrity.
b. Defeat the PKK
c. Continue their economic expansion.
d. Regional stability and security
So, some things to consider and perhaps knock around with your students. Forget the fantastical headlines and discuss the perceptions and realities of the actors on the ground...great grist for the intellectual mill heading into the next block of instruction.
Have we really abandoned the Kurds? On what grounds can the Turks consider an offensive into another country? Is President Trump's decision really all that bad?”
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