Did Obama Just Betray Syrian Christians to Please the Turks? Seems So.

By John Zmirak Published on August 26, 2016

American policy in Syria has been marked by a long list of flip-flops and failures. Remember Obama’s “red line” meant to stop the Assad regime from using chemical weapons? That was quickly erased when Congress made it clear there was little public support for using U.S. forces to topple another secular dictator in favor of rebel groups whose radical Islamist views made them no less dangerous to our interests. The “moderate” rebels to whom the U.S. was airdropping weapons proved to be virtually mythical creatures, and those weapons ended up in the hands of al Qaeda’s allies. Then we learned that a rebel group the Pentagon had backed was fighting another that the CIA had armed.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin has executed on Russia’s behalf a clear and consistent policy, which has helped keep Assad in power — to the benefit of Russia’s Mediterranean influence, and to the benefit of the beleaguered Christian minority in Syria, who find him less of a threat than the Islamist alternatives.

There was one policy, just one, that the U.S. had engaged in which seemed to be working out well: Our government’s backing of the Syrian Democratic Forces, Kurdish-led militias that are allied with local Christians (the Syriac Military Council and the Nineveh Plain Force), that with growing success are taking territory away from ISIS. In those liberated regions, the SDF has established enclaves where Christians have religious freedom and their own armed militias, and women take part in government (unlike in most of the Middle East). As religious freedom activist Johannes de Jong reported here at The Stream:

The successes of the Syriac Military Council and the Nineveh Plain Forces changes the picture we may have of the Syriac-Assyrian Christians in Iraq and Syria. It also challenges us to rethink our strategy to support them. No more than you or I do these Christians aspire to live in refugee camps on care packages. They ask for our assistance in standing up and defending themselves in their own country, where their families have kept the Faith for almost 2,000 years.

Syriac 6

Members of the Syriac Military Council fighting at the Manbij frontline to cut ISIS off from Turkey.

But now the U.S. government has decided to abandon the Kurds and their Christian allies, as Michael Horowitz reported in the International Business Times:

Five days ago, US jets were scrambled to protect Kurdish forces in their self-declared Northern Syria Federation from Assad’s air force in the eastern city of Hasakah.

Today, in the aftermath of a limited Turkish intervention on Syrian soil, the US is demanding the Kurds leave the northern city of Manbij, which the Kurds fought and died to capture during the past two months – backed by US warplanes.

That these two events happened less than a week from another is astonishing, even in such an unpredictable and volatile environment as the Syrian civil war. That the US is letting down its only remaining ally in Syria, at a time when other powers, namely Russia and Iran, have acted aggressively to protect theirs, is damaging to the overall US position in the region. …

By demanding the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) leave Manbij, the US took the strategy it itself initiated, nurtured and supported, and dumped it into the trash.


What motivation does the Obama administration have for turning against its erstwhile allies, the best hope in a desolate region for establishing something like a free and pluralist government? According to Horowitz, we are currying favor with Turkey — the former secular democracy which is morphing before our eyes into an Islamist dictatorship, in the wake of a failed coup that has proved a pretext for a massive purge of secular-minded dissidents.

This is the same Turkey that has gone from provoking Russia (by shooting down a plane that was fighting ISIS) to cozying up to Putin. Turkey is also blackmailing the European Union for huge cash payments and visa-free travel throughout the continent, with the threat that if these demands are not granted, Turkey will dump hundreds of thousands more Syrian migrants across the EU border into Greece and Bulgaria.

So concerned are U.S. generals over Turkey’s untrustworthiness that they have pulled U.S. nuclear weapons out of their longtime Turkish base of Incirlik.

Turkey has for decades savagely repressed its large and growing Kurdish minority, and its autocratic president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, would rather see ISIS prevail in Syria than the creation of a free, democratic Kurdish region that might serve as a magnet for armed Kurdish rebels in Turkey.

To patch up relations with that regime, the Obama administration has apparently decided to throw its Kurdish and Christian allies to the wolves — and embark on a campaign of flattery aimed at Erdoğan. On August 24, Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Ankara and told Erdoğan:

The attempted coup went to the heart of who your people are — principled, courageous and committed. And for a people who have struggled so long to establish a true democracy, this was, from my perspective and the president’s perspective, the ultimate affront. So my heart goes out to not just the government, but to the Turkish people.

Biden gushed that “the American people … stand in awe” of Erdoğan and his supporters for beating back the bungled coup. Biden did not mention the ugly crackdown that was taking place all around him as he spoke. As Bridget Johnson reported on PJ Media:

Erdoğan’s purge since the coup attempt has included basically any secular opponent to his Islamist government: more than 40,000 people have been rounded up, from soldiers to jurists to bankers and even teachers and a comedian. Human rights groups have charged that the rule of law has gone out the window as detainees have been kept in makeshift facilities without proper access to legal representation and suffering beatings, rapes and starvation. Erdoğan has also intensified his battle against the free press.

Meanwhile, religious freedom activists concerned for Christians in the region are profoundly worried about the implications of this U.S. flip-flop. Johannes de Jong, who works closely with Syrian Christian leaders, told The Stream:

It is clear that the Turkish push against the [Kurdish-led] SDF is very worrying for the Syriac Assyrian Christians of the area, and even more for the growing number of Kurdish Christians of Rojava. It shows how much influence Turkey can have and it’s obvious that Turkey is the oppressor of Christians and Kurds. Turkey still denies the [1915-21] genocide against Armenians and Assyrians. One major way for the U.S. to restore trust among the Christians is to properly arm the Syriac Military Council. And, obviously, the U.S. needs to make substantial steps to show that it indeed continues to support the SDF. The U.S. needs to stop the ongoing attacks on the SDF and to investigate the claim that Turkey used chemical weapons against the SDF and the civilian population the SDF protects. [emphasis added]

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