The mainstream media have begun to acknowledge that some Kurdish forces in the Turkey-Syria border region are a legitimate national security concern for Turkey, after a week of criticism of President Donald Trump’s withdrawal.
On Sunday, the New York Times published an article about how Kurdish forces, apparently out of spite, were no longer allowing U.S. forces to take control of detainees linked to the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS) — though the Times headline cast the issue as America’s fault (“U.S. Forces Leave ‘High-Value’ ISIS Detainees Behind in Retreat From Syria”):
The Kurds refused, the officials said, to cooperate in permitting the American military to take out any more detainees from the constellation of ad hoc wartime detention sites for captive ISIS fighters. These range from former schoolhouses in towns like Ain Eissa and Kobani to a former Syrian government prison at Hasaka.
The prisons hold about 11,000 men, about 9,000 of them Syrian or Iraqi Arabs. About 2,000 come from some 50 other nations whose governments have refused to repatriate them.
Later in the article, the Times acknowledged: “The Turkish government sees the Kurdish military presence so close to its border as a serious security threat, because the Kurdish forces have close ties with a guerrilla group that has waged a decades-long insurgency inside Turkey itself” (emphasis added).
Likewise, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has been a harsh critic of Trump’s withdrawal, admitted to a Russian prank caller (whom he mistook for the Turkish foreign minister) that some of the Kurds were a “threat” to Turkey. Via Politico:
“Your YPG Kurdish problem is a big problem,” Graham told the pranksters. He was referring to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, a group that began fighting ISIS as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces in 2015—with support from the U.S.—but is considered a terrorist group by Turkey because of its push to establish an autonomous state for the Kurds on the Turkish-Syrian border.
“I told President Trump that Obama made a huge mistake in relying on the YPG Kurds,” Graham continued. “Everything I worried about has come true, and now we have to make sure Turkey is protected from this threat in Syria. I’m sympathetic to the YPG problem, and so is the president, quite frankly.”
Indeed, Trump acknowledged as much in a press conference on Wednesday, appearing to echo Graham’s private comments. “If you read today — a couple of reports saying that when President Obama started this whole thing,” Trump said. “As you know, it was started by President Obama; he created a natural war with Turkey and their longtime enemy, PKK. And they’re still there.” Turkey has been in conflict with the P.K.K., also known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, since the 1980s. Both Turkey and the U.S. consider it a terrorist organization.
None of that is to say that war was the only option for Turkey, or withdrawal for the United States. But the media are slowly acknowledging that the situation is far more complex than first suggested by knee-jerk criticism of Trump, which overlooked the conflicting interests of two American allies — one of whom is a member of NATO and hosts U.S. nuclear weapons on its territory, among other strategic assets.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.