On Monday morning, Trump used his Twitter account to defend himself from the outpouring of criticism he’s facing for withdrawing American forces from northern Syria and allowing the Turkish army to invade.
To do so, he retweeted propaganda narratives that appear to have come straight from the Turkish government, including a video from a state-run news agency, Andalou Ajansi. Predictably, he focused on arguments that blamed his predecessor, President Obama, for the situation.
The man Trump is retweeting is Michael Doran, who works for the far-right conservative think tank Hudson Institute.
The idea that the southeast-Turkey based Kurdistan Worker’s Party (the PKK) and the northern Syria-based Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), along with its People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) are one and the same is a Turkish government talking point used to justify the use of oppression, violence, and ethnic cleansing against both groups.
The YPG leads a coalition called the Syrian Democratic Forces and have established an autonomous, multi-ethnic enclave in northern Syria after liberating the territory from ISIS. They’ve built a decentralized and egalitarian feminist democracy out of the ashes of the ISIS caliphate — which is now in grave danger as Turkish forces are set to sweep into the area with Trump’s blessing.
The PKK have been waging a separatist war against the Turkish government for decades, and while they have committed some terrible acts of terrorism against Turkish military targets, the Turkish government and the far-right ultranationalist terror group that calls itself the “Gray Wolves” have committed unspeakable mass killings of Kurds and other ethnic minorities on and off since the end of the Armenian genocide.
The United States, which needs Turkish goodwill in order to maintain the strategically crucial airbase at Incirlik, where we house nuclear bombers, has long overlooked the atrocities committed by the Turkish government and wrongly designated the PKK a terrorist group.
While the Syrian PYD naturally does have some ties to the PKK, they are two separate entities. Both President Obama and Trump provided military support to the SDF as they did the heavy lifting in the war against ISIS. Over 11,000 SDF warriors gave their lives to purge the jihadists from northern Syria, and Trump’s move opens the door for them to rush back in — and for the Turks to ethnically cleanse the Kurds from the area, as they did when they annexed the Syrian Kurdish canton of Afrin in March 2018.
The president’s abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. forces from the area after one phone call with Erdogan and his promotion of Turkish government propaganda is the latest in a deeply disturbing trend of enabling right-wing strongmen to carry out their heinous agendas. What was said on that phone call is an issue of national importance; knowing that Trump has been pressuring our allies to try to interfere in the 2020 election, God only knows what Erdogan promised him.
We can only hope that the surprisingly vehement backlash from Republicans will convince him to reverse course and not stand by while atrocities are committed against American allies that we owe a great deal to.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.