By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
For all the voices now in the US trying to justify Trump’s Syria policy, saying “the US didn’t abandon the Kurds and eastern Syria.”
Ummm…when the Pentagon and US army chiefs say they are training 110,000 people in eastern Syria to “stabilize” the region after the defeat of ISIS and you invest in training and equipping them for years…and then without any explanation or providing for a transition…you LEAVE part of the area so they can be bombed and attacked and their children driven from homes…
Ummm…yes that is “abandoning.”
If I am working with someone for years and I have immense power and that person is vulnerable but I am training them and working alongside them…and another friend of mine comes and says “I dislike the person you are working with, I’m going to hit him” and you say “ok, I’ll stand aside”…well yes you did mislead and abandon that person you were working with.
It was relatively easy for the US to not train and equip all these tens of thousands of SDF in eastern Syria, it was easy for them not to drive around with US flags on vehicles and set up bases and make people feel secure and protected. These people trusted in the American flag, and then one day they were bombed and attacked through no fault of their own, with claims there are “terrorists” among them…the “terrorists” that the US had just been working with and training.
SO how do you explain it to a family in Qamishli or Kobani?
Have Americans who excuse this lost all morale judgement when they make excuses about how “well there are Marxists there”…yeah, so, does that mean their families have no rights to live in peace because someone somewhere is a “Marxist”? Or they say “well our NATO ally calls them terrorists”…ok…but you went to eastern Syria and trained with them…so how can you work with someone one day and then accept that they are “terrorists” the next? You owe them an explanation.
You can’t say “the US never promised them anything”…the US was in easter Syria, thousands of Americans were there, this was an American area, with the SDF almost an American proxy, that’s a promise. You mean because the State Department didn’t “promise”…well an America flag on the ground is a kind of promise and expectation. You raised expectations and hopes. So just like in any relationship you need to leave with honor and dignity.
There is no excuse for the behavior of the US in eastern Syria.
People say “well it’s just for fighting ISIS,” ok…then the US promised to “stabilize” it and its being destabilized.
People say “well, we need to bring the troops home,” well, ok…then bring them home with a clear policy for them and those working with them, don’t leave them out there while bombs fall, that’s not honor.
People say “well it’s our NATO ally and we need to confront Iran,”…ummm, the NATO ally works closely with Iran. If you wanted to work with your NATO ally then you should have done that years ago. But you invested in eastern Syria, so do the right thing and leave it in peace when you leave, why shepherd them into another conflict. That is betrayal.
The people in eastern Syria had no choice. They were attacked by ISIS, innocent people slaughtered, and they fled or fought. The US helped the YPG defend the area so people saw the US doing that and drew the conclusion that the US is helping and so they joined the YPG and then the US told the YPG it would be better to create the SDF, so they did that…and so 100,000 people or more joined…seeing the US assistance…the US said “we are going to stabilize”…so people trusted that. They wanted peace. They wanted to rebuild their life. They saw a US stamp of approval for the SDF. If the US had said “don’t join the SDF, we are setting up some US proxy force wholly linked to us…they might have joined that instead.
To open the air to airstrikes on these people who did nothing wrong, who just wanted to live their lives in peace, and let them be strafed and killed and driven from their lands, their kids bombed and harmed…is betrayal.
Anyone who excuses it and accepts it has lost their moral bearing and has no sympathy or empathy for average people and families who did nothing wrong to deserve this epic abuse that has happened to them, an abuse easily preventable had the US been honest with them and honest with itself, when in fact the US misled its own commanders and policymakers.
The shameful statements that view eastern Syria as just a tool to be used against Iran or ISIS ignore the average people. And one should not craft policy just basing it on cynical views, the US wants partners and friends on the ground and to be admired and trusted. That is in US interests. When people say “it’s not in US interests,” is the interest of the US to be seen as an untrustworthy charlatan that builds something up and then destroys it? Empathy and decency and honor and dignity are also US interests. Policies flow from values also and commitments and consistency.
If you believe in ‘America first’ even under that logic the US has put America last in Syria, not first. America first also means that America should have friends and be respected. You cannot be first when you are untrustworthy or have no clear policy and invest in things and throw them away or let people be bombed who were your friends. That’s not first. That’s last.