United States President Donald Trump is has no reservations using military force in Syria against the Turkish army, accord to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. During an interview with CNBC on Monday, Pompeo was grilled on possible American responses to Turkish aggression again the Kurds.
“We prefer peace to war. But in the event that kinetic action or military action is needed, you should know that President Trump is fully prepared to undertake that action,” he added.
The US controversially withdrew its military from Syria, troops that had been assisting Kurdish soldiers in their fight against ISIS. The move drew widespread condemnation from both parties in the US Congress.
“The decision to pull back U.S. troops along the Turkey-Syria border area has grave consequences for U.S. national security and our allies and partners in the region,” a bipartisan group of senators wrote in the letter to Pompeo. “With the assistance of our partner force, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), comprised of Kurdish, Arab, and minority forces, we have erased ISIS’ physical caliphate from the region. While everyone suffered from this difficult fight, the SDF lost more than 10,000 fighters, far more than anyone else.”
Immediately after American forces vacated the country, Turkish troops entered to create what Ankara termed a ‘safe zone’ along the Syria – Turkey border. An economic downturn and increasing anti-refugee sentiment have combined to put Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the defensive and in his eyes, repelling Syrian refugees is a winning strategy. However, beneath those intentions is also an intense layer of racial conflict against the Kurds. Decades of problems between the Kurds and Turks provide Erdogan with a rationale for attacking them.
Sure, the proposed safe zone would create a buffer between the two nations and an area for Syrian refugees to resettle, but the brutal manner in which Turkish forces are taking over the area cannot be excused. If it truly wanted to create a safe zone, why attack the Kurds who are allied with the US against ISIS? The safe zone Turkey intends to carve out of Syria is solely in Kurdish ruled territory which by most accounts would be considered the safest part of Syria. The only reason for the violent offensive is to ethnically cleans the region in preparation for replacing the Kurds with Syrians refugees.
Ankara’s actions were difficult to defend, but Pompeo tried anyway. During a visit to his hometown of Wichita, Kansas on Wednesday, Pompeo was asked about whether Trump’s decision to abandon Kurds would affect US credibility.
“The whole predicate of your question is insane,” Pompeo said. “The word of the United States is much more respected today than it was just two and a half years ago.”
He also revealed that he was behind the recommendation to Trump to lift all sanctions on Turkey after Erdogan agreed to a temporary ceasefire.
“Was I comfortable? Yes. I recommended that to the president,” Pompeo said. “We went and laid out for President Erdogan the fact that we were against what he had done – the president was very unhappy that he conducted an incursion into Syria.”
In the wake of the US leaving, Russia has also moved into the country. Pompeo’s assertion that Washington is keeping military force on the table ignores the reality that any new American offensive would have to contend with Moscow forces. The two superpowers have been opposed to one another previously with regards to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime; Russia was arguable all that managed to keep him in power as US-backed rebels — including Kurds — fought against Damascus. If the Turks were to resume their slaughter of Kurds, the US would have a difficult time reclaiming the positions it so easily forfeit.
Pompeo is operating under the impression that the ceasefire he and vice President Mike Pence brokered would benefit the Kurds, despite the fact that they gain nothing from it and must leave their occupied territory.
“Well, the work that we did was very clearly aimed at [saving lives]. Indeed, I am highly confident that we saved lives,” he said.”
Pompeo did not seem to have a solid answer as to what actions would constitute a military response. Iran’s drone attack on Saudi Arabia and Turkey’s wholesale slaughter of the Kurds are two recent military attacks on US allies. Neither of them provoked Washington to retaliate militarily. However, according to Pompeo, the option is always there, even if he cannot say what it would take for Trump to use it.