US troop withdrawal from Syria could put region on path to stability and peace
Turkey has been a NATO ally for almost 70 years. It houses a strategically important U.S. airbase and 50 nuclear missiles. Turkish allies have fought alongside American soldiers and are committed to fighting alongside us in the future. In fact, NATO provisions require the United States to help defend Turkey if it is attacked. At the moment, Turkey is worried about the Kurdish minority both inside and outside its borders.
It is critically important to remember that Kurds are not all alike, and Turkey is most concerned about one terrorist Kurdish faction that labels itself the People’s Workers Party of the Kurds, or PPK. A further offshoot of the PPK is a group called the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. The U.S. supported the YPG with American dollars and materiel; in turn, they assisted U.S. efforts to eradicate ISIS. The YPG is now a well-armed and battle tested military force.
Both the U.S. and Turkey have deemed the PKK a terrorist organization. Because the YPG remains affiliated with the PKK, Turkey understandably considers this group an imminent threat. And now that ISIS has been effectively decimated, YPG militias are freed up for operations against Turkey. Not surprisingly, Turkish President Recep Erdogan has long telegraphed his intention to wipe out this threat.
The U.S. had just a few dozen soldiers on the Syrian northern border. A promised attack by Erdogan on the PKK left President Trump with only three options. His first option was to maintain the status quo and leave our soldiers at risk. This choice would not have prevented Turkey from entering northern Syria, which begs the question of what would have happened if one of our soldiers had been killed in the course of such an invasion. Would we then have had a causus bellus against our own NATO ally?
Trump’s second option was to immediately mobilize thousands of U.S. soldiers to the region. This would have further inserted us into the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, contrary to the president’s campaign promises and the will of a majority of Americans. Our soldiers would have then been caught in the crosshairs between two enemy combatants, both ostensibly our friends.
Trump’s final—and least palatable—option would have been to preemptively attack Turkish forces: again, our own allies.
Another interesting dilemma to consider is how the U.S. would have responded had the PKK or any of its affiliates attacked Turkey. Under NATO requirements, would the U.S. have been obligated to turn around and attack “our allies,” the Kurds?
Many of my colleagues condemn President Trump’s actions, but if they truly believe national security issues are at stake, they have the constitutional obligation to offer a resolution authorizing use of military force. This would require a debate on the extent of our interests in northern Syria.
This remains an option if Congress desires to protect Syria and the population of the Kurds who helped defeat ISIS. But, of course, it is not the only option. As we recently saw, President Trump instead decided to pursue diplomacy by sending Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Turkey to meet with President Erdogan. This approach seems to already be bearing fruit: Erdogan has agreed to a tentative ceasefire in exchange for the U.S. backing off of further sanctions.
Bringing our troops home, even if only a few, is not just an important policy; it is also an action that could possibly lead to stability and peace. Now that they know we are leaving, the YPG Kurds, as expected, have partnered with Syria against Turkey. For its part, Syria is a Russian ally and has called on the Russians to check Turkey’s ambitions.
The alliance of Russia-Syria-PKK is now balancing against Turkey. Some are now crying out that Iran will move into Syria to gain a highway to the Mediterranean, but that would violate Russia’s Syrian objectives. Russia wants exclusive influence in Syria, not Iranian meddling. Furthermore, Russia doesn’t want to unnerve Israel, which would instantly invite U.S. ire.
We are in for a bumpy flight, but the balance of power in the Syria is at last becoming clearer.
President Trump told us that he would be bringing our soldiers home from foreign wars. This policy is widely popular in America. By removing U.S. soldiers from Syria and allowing a simpler balance of power to emerge, we might be able to find a path to stability and peace.
Biggs represents Arizona’s 5th District and is chairman of the Freedom Caucus.
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