Trump and Erdogan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Trump and Erdogan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

US and British imperialism will never be an ally for the liberation of people anywhere, writes Shabbir Lakha as Erdogan begins bombing northern Syria

As the old saying goes, the only certainties are death and taxes… and the US packing up shop after ravaging a country without any care for what happens next.

The White House confirmed on Monday that the US would be withdrawing its troops in northern Syria to make way for Turkey’s “long-planned operation” in the area. The operation in question is the full-scale military offensive which has now begun against the Kurdish forces who up until now were US allies and were the decisive force in the defeat of IS in northern Syria.

This is undoubtedly a massive betrayal to the Kurds in Syria. Trump’s tweets which can surely be added to the ever-growing ‘beyond parody’ pile, claimed that it was the US that “defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate” and that the “Kurds fought with us but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so”.

The reality is that US airstrikes, despite huge civilian casualties, had a limited strategic effect and relied massively on the Kurdish ground forces to lead the offensive against IS. One of the questions raised by the US decision is what happens to the 60-70,000 IS fighters currently held in Kurdish-run prisons, though it has been inferred that Turkey would take over this responsibility. Given the evidence of Turkey’s open stance of preferring a Kurdish defeat at the hands of IS and the ample evidence that it allowed IS fighters and weapons to cross its border in the last 5 years, this is hardly reassuring.

Not unlike Iraq, the US intervention in Syria has exacerbated the scale of destabilisation and the conditions for terrorist organisations to thrive – which is exactly how IS came into existence to begin with. If the Kurds are forced into battle with the Turkish military and pushed out of the area, there is a big opportunity for a resurgence of IS.

The announcement from the White House and Trump’s twitter feed came after a phone call with President Erdogan, who has threatened numerous times over the last year that he won’t let the US delay his planned attack the Kurds in northern Syria. The Turkish state has historically oppressed the Kurdish minority living within Turkey and has long been in a battle with the PKK fighting for Kurdish liberation. Turkey views the Kurdish YPG which makes up the majority of the SDF in northern Syria as inseparable from the PKK and considers them terrorists.

In 2018, Turkey launched an offensive on the Kurdish held town of Afrin resulting in the killing of several hundred civilians and the displacement of over 167,000 Kurds from the area. The operation in Afrin is a clear indicator of what Erdogan’s operation in northern Syria against the Kurds will look like – ethnic cleansing.

Erdogan’s other stated aim, is to create a “safe zone” where he can deport at least 2 million Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey to, as he did when Afrin was taken. Erdogan has been central to fostering anti-refugee sentiment in Turkey, which has been taken up and amplified by some of his political opponents – as seen in the recent Istanbul mayoral election. It’s worth remembering that the EU signed a deal with Turkey in 2015, paying them billions of Euros to allow the EU to send Syrian refugees to Turkey because it was a “safe third country”.

Why the sudden decision from Trump?

Trump announced in December 2018 that the US would be pulling out of Syria, only to be met with a massive backlash from his own party and the neo-cons in the Democrat establishment. He seemingly reversed that decision and as late as September 2019 sent additional troops to Syria. It’s clear that Trump is playing a balancing game between the neo-cons who are largely in control of US foreign policy on the one hand and his core electoral base, which has been rallied around his isolationist rhetoric since he first ran for President, on the other. With an election in sight, Trump is trying to secure the narrative of having achieved a successful military operation in Syria against IS, and being responsible for bringing the troops home and ending US involvement in wars abroad.

Trump’s bizarre follow-up tweet said:

“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!) … THE USA IS GREAT!”

While the neo-con backlash against Trump is arguing that the US should not be pulling out of Syria, the truth is that the US should never have been there in the first place, and the Kurds were mistaken to trust them. Trump’s decision eradicates any semblance of doubt that the US ever wanted to help the Syrian people or that it cared about Kurdish liberation.

The US has spent 8 years exacerbating the conflict in Syria, dropped tens of thousands of bombs which have killed thousands of civilians and flattened whole towns and villages, and the result in 2019 is a new escalation on new fronts of the conflict with greater involvement from other regional actors. All of which will only be compounded by the potential resurgence of IS, or some version of it. In the process it has been the Syrian people and the Kurdish people who have been betrayed, killed and displaced over and over again.

The simple fact is that US and British imperialism will never be an ally for the liberation or defence of the people – anywhere. The anti-war movement was absolutely right to oppose Western intervention in Syria, and to resist the pressures to back the calls for a NATO-policed No Fly Zone. MPs like Hilary Benn and David Cameron that led the deliberate lie that British bombing of Syria was necessary to defend the Syrian people should hang their heads in shame.

An attack on the Kurds by Turkey, a member of NATO, will have the implicit backing of NATO. This is another reason why the movement has to mobilise when the NATO summit comes to London in December.

Shabbir Lakha

Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.