Trump Cries ‘Peace, Peace’ in Syria. But Is There Peace?
Because he supports us on so many crucial issues, conservative Christians cut President Trump quite a bit of slack. Because he’s from Queens (as I am), he’s prone to boasting, chest-thumping, and generally talking at a press briefing like Muhammad Ali before a fight. Would anyone find it that surprising if Trump announced, “I am the GREATEST”? Or brought out boxing figure Don King, assuring us that he’d make “the BEST Secretary of Education in the history of the universe”?
No, we wouldn’t. What’s more, we wouldn’t care. Not at this point. We’ve had enough of squishy, insipid “leaders” like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan pre-chewed and barfed into our beaks by the GOP establishment. We’re okay with someone who violates stuffy, phony “norms.” Ones that somehow only seem to bind conservatives, and stop us from fighting back.
I get all that.
Straight Talk on Syria
But there is a limit. Trump has handled his Syria policy terribly. Let’s say we agree with his premise. U.S. Special Forces needed to get out from between Turkey and the Kurds. The president could have informed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) weeks ago. That would have let them cut a decent deal with the Russians and Damascus. A deal that preserved local autonomy, and religious freedom for Kurds. (Under the SDF, Christians are free to evangelize and Muslims to accept the Gospel. Under Assad, all that will stop.)
Instead, Trump seems to have made up his mind during a phone call with Turkish thug-in-chief Tayyip Erdogan. Then sprung the plan on his aides, and told the panicked Kurds later. The outcome?
Hundreds of dead civilians and 250,000 refugees fleeing for their lives. Now the Russians, Turks, and Iranians share control over Syria. We have no influence, and no allies. The Kurds who bled to conquer ISIS on our behalf? They’re pelting our troops with rocks.
At Least the Neocons Didn’t Get Their Christian Genocide, Like Iraq’s
Give Trump due credit. At least he didn’t listen to the cries for the U.S. to topple Assad, and put al Qaeda (the “Free Syrian Army”) in charge of a million Christians. The Obama administration, most of the media, and the Neocomintern that dominated the GOP before Trump, all agreed on that crackpot policy. Only three candidates, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump dissented. (So did Democrat Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, now smeared as a “Russian asset” for her trouble.)
So neither the Democrats nor the neocons have any moral standing to damn Trump’s actions. He gave al Qaeda jihadists a small piece of Syria. Instead of the whole thing, as all the “responsible” commentators, left and right, demanded. Trump can take credit for that. And should.
Fact Checking the President
But do the claims Trump made at his press conference Wednesday, and the tweet below, really check out?
Big success on the Turkey/Syria Border. Safe Zone created! Ceasefire has held and combat missions have ended. Kurds are safe and have worked very nicely with us. Captured ISIS prisoners secured. I will be making a statement at 11:00 A.M. from the White House. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 23, 2019
In fact the firing hasn’t ceased. So the Christian front-line ministry the Free Burma Rangers reports. It sees continued attacks by the al Qaeda-linked “Free Syrian Army” (John McCain’s “moderate rebels.”)
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are under attack now from the Turkish-supported Free Syrian Army (FSA) north of Tel Tamir. We were just starting a distribution for internally displaced people (IDPs) here when the FSA attacked in the vicinity of Soda Village, north of Tel Tamir. The FSA is attacking with armored cars, mortars, rockets, heavy machine guns, and infantry forces against SDF positions. The footage below shows the smoke from the attacks and you can hear the fighting. As far as we know right now, there are no casualties.
What Do Our Kurdish Allies Say?
The press arm of the Kurdish-led region protected by the SDF (the “Autonomous Administration) issued a statement today. (For a full understanding of the region, read its excellent explainer here.)
If a lasting peace is to be achieved in North and East Syria, the following factors must be considered:
As the ceasefire agreement has failed to lead to a suspension of Turkish attacks during the 120 hours that was given as a window for SDF withdrawal, the chances of it leading to peace in the long term are virtually non-existent. Mazloum Abdi, Commander in Chief of the SDF, stated that “Turkey prevented the withdrawal of our forces,” saying that the SDF willing to withdraw its forces if it leads to genuine cease-fire and negotiations. SDF forces withdrew from Sere Kaniye on the 20th October. However, attacks and clashes continue within and outside this zone, on the Kobane and Manbij fronts, as well as around Ayn Issa and toward Dirbesiyeh to the south and east of the ‘safe zone’.
Turkey’s history of occupation
Turkey’s track record in the Afrin region of North and East Syria, in which jihadist proxy groups directed by and reporting to Turkey are enacting demographic engineering, repressing dissent, enforcing social rules based on Sharia law, kidnapping and carrying out extra-judicial killings, is relevant to any future possibility of peace in zones under Turkish control. Turkey has overseen an ongoing breakdown in the rule of law, and any safe zone under the control of the Turkish Armed Forces – as mooted in the ceasefire agreement – seems likely to follow similar patterns.
The humanitarian impact of the war has been severe, with over 250,000 people displaced from their homes, dozens of neighbourhoods and crucial infrastructure destroyed by shelling and air strikes, and the irretrievable loss of human life. The war so far has seen a high toll on civilian life, particularly in terms of death and injury of children.
Who has a seat at the table
Despite the military agreement with the Syrian government and the presence of Syrian and Russian troops on the ground, it is important to recognise that the Autonomous Administration is the primary civil authority for the region, while the leading political body is the Syrian Democratic Council, to which the SDF reports. As such, the most recent round of negotiations between the USA and Turkey did not involve the most relevant political actors in the region.
The invasion of Turkey has already facilitated the escape of dozens if not hundreds of ISIS-linked individuals, as well as creating the instability which ISIS sleeper cells can take advantage of to strike and to recruit.
Security concerns of both parties
Based on our research, the “security concerns” Turkey uses as the justification for its cross-border incursion are largely fabricated, and in no way commensurate to the risk posed to Syrian civilians by Turkish forces. As demonstrated by our analysis of cross border attacks, between January 2019 and July 2019 there were 30 documented Turkish attacks onto the Syrian side of the border, resulting in 27 injuries and deaths. Conversely, there was only one attack onto Turkey from the Syrian side, and in this case the attacker was promptly arrested by local security forces on the Syrian side of the border.
Given the agreement’s political inviability; the collapse of rule of law in Afrin; and ongoing human rights violations and rapid deterioration in the humanitarian situation precipitated by the Turkish invasion, continuing despite the ceasefire; it appears highly unlikely that the Turkish-American ceasefire deal is likely to achieve any lasting peace, whether or not hostilities cease following the end of the ceasefire.
What is needed to achieve lasting peace?
It is necessary for any future cease-fire arrangements and steps towards peace to be monitored and facilitated by a third party, such as the UN, Arab League, or another power which is not directly involved in the conflict. Any future security mechanism on the Syria – Turkey border should be enforced by a third party. Third party observation is also necessary to investigate possible use of chemical weapons, war crimes and compliance with humanitarian standards. In addition, given the repeated attacks on North and East Syria throughout the past year from Turkish soil, any future security mechanism should extend into both Turkish and Syrian territory.
Inclusion of Autonomous Administration in negotiations
The Autonomous Administration is best placed to realize any future agreements concerning the future of the region. Any negotiations regarding the future of North and East Syria must have the Autonomous Administration involved as a primary actor. The failure of the international community to acknowledge the Autonomous Administration as a legitimate political entity has had disastrous consequences for both the security situation – in particular with regards to ISIS – and the humanitarian situation in the region.
If Turkey and the USA are truly committed to principles of political sovereignty, then the future of Syria needs to be decided by Syrians, with the Autonomous Administration as an equal component alongside the Assad government and opposition representatives.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, and their Autonomous Administration, deserve a seat at the bargaining table. They defeated ISIS. They kept jihadists from purging Christians from the region. In fact, this group is the only force in Syria remotely pro-Western, or consonant with our values. Throwing it to the wolves doesn’t help us in the long run.
John Zmirak is a Senior Editor of The Stream, and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism.