Local populations displaced from Manbij
The Pentagon has led the way in forming Middle East policy, normally the province of the White House and the US State department. In Iraq, where it still controls a huge base in Baghdad’s Green Zone (known as the US Embassy) it is fighting alongside the Iraqi army to retake Mosul. But whatever it does, because it has not set out its strategy on the basis say of protecting the persecuted Sunni minority of the country, but rather simply as “fighting ISIS”, all its decisions play into the hands of the Iranians, who control the situation.
The situation is even worse in Syria, where Generals Townsend and Votel have built an alliance with the Kurdish YPG, purportedly again to “fight ISIS”, but really simply to re-establish a military presence in Syria, which had been lost. Joseph Votel was very vocal about the Turkish government’s purge of pro-US officers and Votel’s personal contacts in the Turkish military (TSK) involved in the July 15 attempted coup. The dogged resistance to Erdogan’s independent foreign policy in the US military-industrial complex has earned the Turkish President the enmity of the West’s liberal establishment. More particularly, the Pentagon’s support of the YPG is aimed at hurting Turkey, supposedly a NATO ally, albeit it one that is no longer on a tight leash.
As Liz Sly has reported the YPG or the People’s Protection Units, are the military wing of a political movement called the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that has been governing northeastern Syria for the past 4 1/2 years, and which seeks to apply Abdullah Ocalan’s Marxist vision to the areas with a majority Kurdish population vacated by the Syrian government during the war. Its rule is one of force and does not have the democratic mandate of the Kurds living in the areas it controls, let alone that of the non-Kurds (Arabs, Turcomans). It depends for its survival on US support.
The YPG is ultimately a reverse expansion into Syria of Öcalan’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which was launched in Diyarbakir in 1978 to demand independence from Turkey for the Turkish Kurds. It soon set up a safe haven in Syria with the backing of Hafez al-Assad, who wanted to put pressure on Turkey over water supplies at the time of the building of the Euphrates dams. But Öcalan was able to play both ends against the middle and ever since July 1979, and despite the eagle eyes of the Syrian regime watching his movements, Öcalan was able to export his Marxist-Leninist “vanguard” party idea to Syria, laying the foundation stone for the PYD as a purely political movement to start with, with US support.
While the traditional “white Turk” Kemalist governments in Turkey pursued a policy of heavy repression in Southern-eastern Turkey in response to the PKK’s activities there, Erdogan called for the “Kurdish opening” in 2005, despite the opposition to this by the Turkish military establishment. He tried to broaden the Turkish democratic space into a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious political project. But the PKK’s insistence on a continuing war tipped the delicate political balance within Turkey against Erdogan, who was then forced to relent to the demand of Turkish nationalist elements to suppress Kurdish ambitions. Since then like-for-like aggressive action has had to be adopted by the Turkish authorities in response to the PKK’s terror tactics and its murder of civilians as well as military personnel in Turkey.
The US military’s blithe dismissal of the tight links between the PKK and the YPG is aimed at putting pressure on Turkey over its independent foreign policy. Effectively the Pentagon is supporting terror within a NATO ally’s borders. The Turkish government continues dialogue with the US on this subject and threatens but does not deny use of military bases in Turkey to the Pentagon. Nevertheless the strategy has pushed Turkey increasingly into the arms of Russia and this has led directly to victory for Russian policy in Syria, in particular, to the survival of Bashar al-Assad.
What is worse is that now the Pentagon has painted itself into a corner in Syria in virtue of its contradictory policy. Response to the deluge of Syrian refugees from the Syria wars, Turkey launched “Operation Euphrates Shield” without US knowledge, although it had obtained a reluctant agreement to the idea from Obama in principle, in order to carve out a safe region in which Syrians opposed to the Assad government in Damascus could stay. As much as anything, its timing was a response to the PYD/YPG’s attempt to carve out its own state in northern Syria along the Turkish border. In the process, the YPG had been pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing, to establish its rule.
On US advice, the YPG integrated a small proportion of the displaced Arab male youth into its so-called “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), after their careful Marxist-Leninist political indoctrination, in order to deflect criticism of the inbred nature of the organisation and its ruthless tactics. However, the deceit became all too apparent as these Arab elements became marginalised. An important town ethnically cleansed by the YPG is Manbij, which became a target in the campaign of the TSK and the Syrian opposition groups formed into the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA), which the TSK operationally supports, to clear a northern Syrian safe region.
Seeing the TSK/FSA success in clearing ISIS out of al-Bab, and then turning towards Manbij to clear that town for Arab re-settlement, the PYD/YPG contacted the Russians who brokered the handing over of the villages surrounding Manbij to the west to the Assad government, ostensibly to act as a buffer zone. The Turkish government said in response that it welcomed the hand-over of the Manbij outskirts to the Assad government, in exchange for keeping Manbij itself. However, as it became clear that the PYD/YPG was now seeking Russian protection, not wanting to compromise its position in that zone, US forces arrived to reinforce the PYD/YPG.
Joseph Votel and the Pentagon staff behind him state that their alliance with the YPG has a purpose to employ what it considers the best fighting force in the area against ISIS in Raqqa. However, engaging against the extremely difficult and entrenched positions of ISIS in Raqqa will mean that Manbij will have to be emptied of its defensive forces, both in respect of the YPG and the US, in order to make any credible attempt against this vast and sprawling ISIS fortress in Raqqa, recently reinforced by surviving ISIS brigades from al-Bab. The Turkish position, and that therefore of the FSA forces it backs, is seen therefore as a hindrance to the Raqqa operation.
This now cannot take place without full Russian cooperation in respect of an agreement to hold the TSK/FSA in its current positions to allow the Raqqa operation to proceed. While Russia gains everything from this political chess game, the US thus paints itself into a corner, not only tactically, but strategically, as its armed forces sacrifice the country’s relationship with Turkey, which is not only supposedly a NATO ally, but has the second largest army within the alliance, and is the most geographically strategic NATO country.
Russia, meanwhile, is benefiting from Turkey’s turn to the east, but calculates that Turkey has no choice but to pursue good relations with Russia as a result of its economic and commercial strategy, and as a result also of the fact that Russia is the Syrian policeman. Putin continues to develop good relations with the Syrian Kurds, in order to avoid losing its hegemonic role over Syria. This means that Turkey will have to stand back from further expansion of its safe region.
But thus allowing the Syrian Kurds political independence from the US, Russia continues to protect its dominant position, which it denies to the US simply in virtue of avoiding polarisation on the ground between Syrian factions backed by rival superpowers. The US is thus boxed into being a bit-player on the Syrian scene, just as it is in Iraq.
It is clear that the Pentagon has pursued war willy-nilly against any and all more nuanced White House foreign policy, not just now under Trump, but also under Obama. As the Pentagon increasingly goes AWOL, and the liberal establishment and its mainstream media promotes the aimless self-interested aggression-for-its-own-sake of the US military-industrial complex, US policy in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria will continue its disjointed, self-contradictory path, dooming the US empire to further abject failure after failure, in a replay of the fall of Rome, drawn out in slow motion over decades as a result of the sheer capacity of the US Congress to fund mind-boggling, but obviously purposeless military budgets.