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Why Donald Trump’s change in Syria policy matters | FT

Why Donald Trump’s change in Syria policy matters | FT


President Donald Trump has
surprised the Pentagon and even his allies in Washington as well
as the international community, with his abrupt decision to
give Turkey the green light to launch a cross-border
military operation against the Syrian
Democratic Forces. That’s the
Kurdish-dominated group that American troops
have armed, trained, and fought alongside in
the battle with Isis. With me to discuss
the possible outcomes is Andrew England, the Financial
Times Middle East editor. Andrew, first of all, tell
us why is this important? Why should anyone
care about what’s going on with a
small group in Syria? Yeah, it’s a small group, but
it’s a very important group. For several years
now, they’ve been at the forefront of the
US’s battle against Isis in northeastern Syria
which is an area controlled by the SDF, the Syrian
Democratic Forces. Now, these guys have
been on the ground. They’ve been very successful in
reclaiming territory from Isis. They’ve captured thousands
of Isis fighters, about 1,000 foreign fighters. They are detaining those
fighters, plus their families, wives, and children,
this kind of thing. So the main concern for
Europeans looking at this is what happens to the
battle against Isis? And what happens to
all these fighters? Because many European
countries don’t want to actually take them back. Absolutely, and the
concern is, if Turkey does launch an operation
into northeastern Syria against the Kurds,
then they’ll be distracted. The detention of all
these Syrian Isis fighters would be in jeopardy. What happens to them? What happens to the
battle against Isis? Does Isis re-emerge? So that’s one element. Why is Turkey so determined
to move into Syria? The Syrian war is
practically over now. So why start a new front? You’re right. Turkey has for
years had concerns about what they believe
to be Kurdish separatists. The PKK, a Turkish group, has
been fighting the Turkish state for more than 30 years, and
Turkey sees the Syrian kurds as an extension of the PKK. So in Turkey’s eyes,
the US has been arming, training terrorists –
what Turkey calls terrorists – on their border. So this has for a
long time been a point of contention between the
US and Turkey, Ankara. And what do we think
happened two nights ago? I know that for a
while Donald Trump has wanted to bring
the troops back home, and he tried earlier this
year, at the end of last year, and his secretary of defense,
Jim Mattis at the time, resigned. So he went back on his
decision, at least partly. What happened now? Good question, but
it’s Donald Trump, so we’re not really sure. What we do know is that
Mr Trump had a telephone conversation with
President Erdogan of Turkey on Sunday, and then on Sunday
night, in the early hours, the White House
put out a statement saying Turkey would launch
operations in northeast Syria soon. And US troops, who’ve been
supporting the Kurdish militants but also been doing
joint patrols with the Turks along that border as
confidence building measures, would withdraw. So basically, he was seen
to be giving, like you said, a green light. But he’s essentially upended
his own government’s policy towards Syria and
towards Turkey. Yes, but it wouldn’t be the
first time, and to be fair, Donald Trump has
long said that he wants to bring the troops home. As you said, in
December last year, he announced that he was going
to take an estimated 2,000 American troops out
of northeastern Syria. There’s about 1,000 left. So he’s always made that a
campaign issue, and he’s always been very clear he
doesn’t really care about what happens in Syria. For him, he said, the priority
is the fight against Isis. He claims the Isis caliphate,
self-declared caliphate is defeated, because Isis
has lost its territory. So he kind of wants to
wash his hands of this now. He says, look, the
kurds, that we paid them. They made lots of money. This is not our war. He said, we were supposed to
be there for a short period and we’ve been
there all this time. Let’s get home. I see the logic in that,
but what is the problem? Who actually gains
from this, and is there any chance of not only Isis
coming back but other elements, other parts of the Syrian
war, erupting again? I think the last thing
Syria needs is a new front and any more instability. That northeastern region
has pretty much stayed out of the civil war that’s been
going on since 2011 in Syria, and the Kurds haven’t
fought against Assad. But what this does,
it sends a message to – or this is the fear – it
sends a message to any US allies, local allies who’ve
been fighting on the ground, we don’t care about you. You’re expendable. We can dump you. And it will be seen as a
symbolic victory, at least, to Iran and Russia which have
sided with President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president,
during the civil war, because it will be
seen as another sign of the US withdrawing from
the Middle East symbolically. Just saying, we no
longer care about what happens in the
Middle East, which would be seen to embolden Iran
and Russia, which have taken advantage of European and
US marginalisation in Syria to extend their own influence. Has Donald Trump received
any support from anyone? President Erdogan, no. To be fair, Republicans
in the US spoke… Yes, I saw that
Lindsey Graham said that the decision
was short-sighted and irresponsible. Exactly, a disaster
in the making. Democrats have
spoken out against. European governments
have put out statements saying that they’re
concerned about what happens in the fight
against Isis, anything that brings more stability. Aid agencies have
raised concerns about another flood
of displaced people. It’s really interesting,
Andrew, that the concern is not about the Kurds, and yet
the history of the Kurds has been one where
they are repeatedly let down by western allies
that they work with. What happens to the
Kurds in this case? This was always going
to be a huge question anyway, because
the Kurds, the SDF, they’ve used the battle
against Isis and the civil war to carve out this
kind of autonomous enclave in the northeast. Now, the Assad regime has been
fighting rebels and opposition across the country. So they’ve stayed clear
of this, and they’ve allowed the SDF to
maintain their autonomy, fight against Isis, and have
their alliance with the US. At some stage, this
was always going to become a question
of what happens next? Now, the SDF has had talks with
the Assad regime previously, as the war in Syria
has diminished, and they have to try and work
out what kind of arrangement there will be. This could actually push the
SDF closer to the Assad regime, and whether they can
negotiate some form of autonomous, decentralised
rule or not, but we don’t know. That’s going to be a
big question that’s got to be resolved,
and it was always going to be a sticking point
as the Assad regime reasserts control over most of
the rest of the country. Once they’ve done that, then
the question of what happens in this northeastern
area on the Turkish… Is there an argument
that Donald Trump is ultimately right in his
analysis of the situation? Because what else
would the Kurds do, and where else would they go, if
they’re squeezed between Turkey which doesn’t want them to have
any autonomy and the regime in Damascus which also doesn’t
want them to have autonomy. So unless the US protects
them for the much longer term, they’re going to have
to make that choice and to re-engage with
the Assad regime. Look, I think the Kurdish
issue in the northeast is always going to
have to be resolved. There’s got to be a solution
to it at some point, or there will be conflict. And Trump is correct in
saying that the battle, or this conflict, the simmering
conflict between Ankara and Kurdish separatists, has
been going on for decades. The question is
how you manage it. What had happened after Trump
was persuaded not to withdraw all his troops, after
saying he would, in December last year, we’ve
seen sort of some confidence building measures. So US troops, since August,
have been doing joint patrols with the Turks on the
border, and they’ve been doing joint air
patrols, and the SDF was removing some of its
defences close to the border. The problem was Erdogan
wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to go
deeper into Syria. He wanted to create, he
wants to create a safe zone 32 kilometres deep inside Syria. The Americans weren’t
going to go that deep. So now, seems like
he’s convinced Trump that the way to
resolve this is allow him to move Turkish troops
in and create this zone. And then Erdogan argues
that that will allow for the resettlement of some of
the 3.6m refugees that Turkey is hosting, and that’s a huge
domestic pressure on Erdogan. Assuming that the
refugees want to go back. Assuming they do and assuming
that it’s not forced, would that shake up the whole
demographics of this region? You’re sending Arab Syrians
back into this area who didn’t come from this
area, but still, you’re going to have to resolve
the Kurdish question. And so the question
is should the US be there to play a leading
role in confidence building measures between the
Kurdish militants and Turkey whilst the
resolution is resolved? And should there be
greater political pressure on actually getting
the settlement, or some sort of political
transition in Syria, that everybody seems to
have forgotten about. Well, yeah, we’ve been
waiting for a very long time for a political
transition in Syria. So my last question
to you, Andrew, is, given the backlash in DC,
and indeed across the world, do you think this time
President Trump will stick with the decision,
or you think by tomorrow he would have said, OK, now
I understand this better, and I will not pull
all the troops. I think that’s what we need
to wait and see what happens. After there was
a backlash, Trump tweeted that he would
economically destroy Turkey if they did things that
were against certain limits. We don’t know what that means. Was it a response for the
backlash, is it just bluster, or would he put pressure
on Turkey not to go far? Because the other
question we have to ask is what will
Erdogan do next? He’s been for months
talking about the need to create this zone
deep inside Syria and constantly belligerent
rhetoric against the Kurdish militants. How will he act now? Now, he’s got the green light. The onus is on what does he do? Now, will he go deep into
Syria and potentially create that conflict
with the Syrian Kurds, or will they just
go in so far, where they don’t go deep enough
to actually trigger a bigger conflict? So there are many
variables I think we’re going to have to watch,
but clearly, Jim Mattis, who stood up to Trump last time
and then resigned, he’s gone. There are less
adults in the room, as we say, in the White
House, in the administration, to put pressure on
Trump, but clearly, there is a Republican backlash which
might make him think twice. So a story that we will keep
on watching very closely with our correspondents
on the ground and with you here, in London. Thank you, Andrew. Thank you, Roula.

99 comments on “Why Donald Trump’s change in Syria policy matters | FT

  1. He promised to withdraw from Syria. He keeps the promise. Democrats attack him about his withdrawal. Soon 2020 campaign, Democrats as antiwar will attack him why he is still staying in Syria, Iraq…

  2. If the US is so desperately supporting Kurdish "fighters". Give them an American state.

    How would you feel if ISIS would start its Islamic State in Mexico or Canada?

  3. How long do we sacrifice our young people to the war machine and their supporters. We have been in these countries for 18 yrs. These countries have been fighting each other forever.

  4. Psalms 2:4
    He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision
    JESUS IS LORD THERE IS NO OTHER

  5. Peace is the Prize. We back our President Completely. Why must we spill Americans Blood all over the world. No one cares
    About Syria. Americans love Trump. Promises made
    Promises kept- to those who actually fight the wars. Not pussy Democrats who are all strung out on meds…

  6. When did you first hear the following quotes?: "Al Qaeda is on our side in Syria" & "I don't see what's wrong with Israel helping al Qaeda. Al Qaeda never attacked Israel."

  7. We can't stay there forever. Sorry but we taking care of the rest of the planet, but can't take care of things at home. All the while, other nations around the world hate us and call us terrorists and bullies. Yet btch about us leaving places like syria. Give me a break. Pull your heads out sheeple

  8. He knows these countries can't afford wars. U.S. is the only country rich enough to fight. Trump is using economy to beat down enemies.

  9. Let's be clear—this is not the US. This entire mess belongs to Obama's funding and supporting militarily the Muslim Brotherhood. We have been dragged into an 18 year religious war for what ? These are internal issues that need to be resolved in their own region.

  10. Of course the World Leaders don't support Trump, but the American people do. I have friends who think that Trump is the worst President ever, but they support him in trying to end these endless wars.

  11. TFB! The U.S.A. cannot continue to arm or protect Countries that practice subhuman political death cult practices and would never be at peace because of their war idealism! "We" should have let them kill themselves decades ago! 💥💣👹

  12. Excuse me, I thought this was news. Trump ran on pulling troops out of Syria, so it's no surprise to anyone. mk? Go back and watch his 2015 campaign.

  13. It's very simple. He's a narcissist. He is sending a message to republicans. You better back me. Look what I can do.

  14. This people speak about trump as if he knew what he was doing…HE'S AN IDIOT and is trying to make a distraction from he's impeachment

  15. Fake narrative…endless conflict…all about the money…they don't care weather I lose a leg or blown up…all money… enemy of the people

  16. Andrew makes a good point, the problem is there whether U.S. soldiers are there or not. Too many strong actors in that area. Why stay involved?

  17. How on Gods earth did he give them the green light, he said he would destroy turkeys economy if they did anything to Syria. You are fake news, or just uneducated. As you are European, both are highly likely

  18. Dear middle Americans, I know this is hard for you to understand but our country Needs Allies. This Draft Dodger is literally isolating the U.S.

  19. Let the EU and NATO handle it. Without the US, OR it's money. See how fast the Eurocucks drop it from their media outlets.

  20. This is pseudo intellectual mumble jumble. We the American people don’t owe anything to people who have been fighting each other for decades. You say the Kurds are our allies but so are the Turks. So why take sides? Let them hash it out and encourage peace rather than war. Europe is concerned as they should be, and, they should also handle the responsibility for peace and protecting their part of the world. America is not the world Police anymore. Sorry.

  21. Why should we continue to be involved in endless wars? Driving up our national debt, depleting our resources and killing our citizens. Honestly I don’t think we should have gotten involved in the first place. How about we follow the rules laid out in a mutual defense treaties such as NATO. If Isis was in the United on a large scale and occupied a region who would come help? No one because it’s not in their best interest. Now it’s time for America to start looking out for its best interests. We’ve kill 97% of isis who happens to wear sandals and is armed with a ak from decades ago.

  22. Damn you do damn you don’t…Americans needs to come home 🏡…. war is never ends..
    The very people Americans are trying to help is calling an invasion so stopping is a smart moves…..this is islam war let them dealt with their own crappy ****. This is coming from outsider…

  23. This is the Financial Times asking viewers to convince the United States to achieve Israeli Foreign Policy objectives in the Middle East. This is not in the National Interest of the United States.

  24. It's a brilliant strategy, actually. Thwarts Iran's push to create the Lebanon corridor, makes Turkey responsible for policing ISIS, and puts Russia in conflict with Turkey because they support Assad. And it doesn't cost us American lives.

  25. So sorry for American tax payers. their money which used to equipped terror groups like PKK and PYD will be burn into aches. US created and armed terrorists PKK then now they're whining about Turkey which determined to destroy this threat
    !!

  26. Thank you for the comments. Now I don’t have to waste time watching something that ultimately annoy me. Thumbs up!👍

  27. Why don't you European weasels get up and take care of this yourself ? And by the way this report avoids the deal & the deal is we keep American nukes in Turkey 😁

  28. president can change what ever he likes and it`s not up to democrats to order they are not in power Long live GOD Trump

  29. Reminder: May 16, 2017, Visiting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, while at the Turkish Ambassador's Residence in Washington, D.C., Turkey's Security Team, attacked and beat up a crowd of peaceful protesters on American soil with impunity!! President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has an Orange Turkey in his pocket. Why? 🦃

  30. The Kurds were around before the US and will probably be around after the US. I hope by now they know not to trust the USG.

  31. Less adults in the room, as we say… 11:30, what are we dealing with here? the supposed experts out and the non-experience personel in the White House.

  32. Correction : YPG is terrorist., it’s a fact.
    YPG , PKK connection obious and accepted by US officials too.
    Truth is American establishment feed, train and weponise a Seperatist – Terrorist and Communist group…
    … why?
    Because America’s “new middleeast” plans.
    They want build a Kurd state who loyal to America for acting like footsoldiers when America want.
    … guess what?
    Thin never gonna happen!

  33. the biggest threat to the free world is Donald Trump….he is behaving like a petty dictator!! Isis is a real and terrible threat to the World. Russia, Iran and Turkey must be so pleased with Orange Donald. The USA is no longer respected and trusted by its Allies.

  34. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_9elA4YTKU

    financial time Victor mallet The Scourge of Mankind

    Close the door and let the mob beat the innocent people

  35. EZEKIEL 38:
    And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,
    Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him,
    And say, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal:

  36. So Europeans are concerned. How concerned are they ? Are they concerned enough to form a European coalition and send their sons and daughters to Northeast Syria to replace the American troops who were sent there to destroy ISIS. And they accomplished that mission. The Kurds have been fighting the Turks for decades. The U.S. compensated the Kurds. They were well compensated. Now they want us in the middle of their fight with turkey. To do what ? Take up arms against Turkey ? That was never our fight. There was never any agreement between the U.S. and the Kurds that we would fight with them in their fight for independence from Turkey. The Kurds have been trying for decades to carve themselves a Homeland out of turkey, Iraq, and Syria. Not going to happen. They are between a rock and a hard place and they want America in there with them.

  37. Syria,Putin and Iran have always been complaining that America needs to leave – Now America plans to leave so it is a Syrian Problem – Let them take over the ISIS Refugees and Prisoners. Case closed.

  38. America helped the Kurds with weapons , Airpower and loads of money………………..not the other way round…………ISIS Caliphate has been defeated in both Iraq and Syrian North so show is over.

  39. President Obama pumped billion of dollars in weapons into the Syrian civil war and their side lost. The American people do not give a rats about Syria. The Kurds will have to leave Syria in the future. Turn all ISIS pows over to Pres. Assad.

  40. Asad regime so funny when you want to smear a country they called Funny isn’t it !!!😂😂 – Call it Asad government you lying morelly currupt warmonger a noncense what your saying – and by the way Asad is the legitimate president and he’s Goverment has a seat in the UN and is recognized as a legitimate Goverment!!!🖕🏿

  41. Why is that every criminal and horrible organisation or nation that sides with the US is considered a good guy rather than criminal aka Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kurds, Pakistan etc its almost like an organisation of terror. Pacifism is the way

  42. in UK TV EVERYONE has to hold a pen between their fingers… everyone. It's never used serves no function, but everyone in the UK holds a pen between their fingers. Watch any programme like news reporting etc in some sort of studio, sky, bbc they all do it… UK and often US too. Totally bizarre.

  43. One call from Moscow and POTUS does what his master tells him. The geopolitic nature of the Middle East is based on stability of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Israel and USA and Russia work to maintain this stability.

  44. Imagine Kurds achieved their goals and US backed them….that'd mean US helped establish a hostile nation on NATO's borders! So thank Trump for ending the crazy support for Kurds. Don't forget, Turkey is a real US Ally via Nato.

  45. Oh if only they elected Hillary, all could have been business as usual. Now we have to listen to loads of bs like this.

  46. Those middle east folks will have to work it out among themselves. Don't forget it's a big "victory" for the USA because American boys won't be coming home in caskets or wounded for life. Our commitment to the Kurds was not an "open ended" vow to help them achieve statehood. It was to defeat ISIS, a common goal of the Kurds and the USA. Now that that goal is met, the USA certainly does not want to be the guarantor of a "new Kurdish nation" that will have to take parts of Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq for itself. That was never in the deal.

  47. Don’t you think we see what you all are doing, do you take us for a fool?? You ruined Iraq and created peshmerge in N. Iraq. Syria erupted and now you are trying to create an enclave for the YPG . Next will be Iran and then eventually you will try to stir up trouble in Turkey to carve out land there . This is your plan clearly : to create 4 state federation for Kurds! So we are saying let’s bring the fight to them before they with their big brothers bring it to us. If anyone of you have balls, come front us directly instead of hiding behind petty proxies.

  48. Quit the bull! PKK, YPG, PYD, SDF, are all terrorists groups calling, "covering" them under the name kurdish don't make them kurdish!!! They are the worst one with Communist Marxist ideology!!!

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