Abandoning the Kurds? An Interview with Hussein Ibish

Published October 10th, 2019 - 09:42 GMT
/Al Bawaba
/Al Bawaba

 

At the time of writing the Arab League is set to meet, as Turkey embarks on a military incursion into northern Syria made possible by the drawing-down of US troops. While Trump has positioned the announcement as part of an 'America First' exit from the Middle East, critics believe the move allows Erdogan to achieve his plans of cracking down on Kurdish separatists. With thousands of ISIS prisoners held in makeshift prisons in the area, others worry that Turkey will use their presence as a bargaining chip with Europe in the future. 

DC Insider speaks with Hussein Ibish, Senior Resident Scholar at The Arab Gulf States Institute, to get some immediate perspective.

 


 

By making this drastic move, would you say that Trump was turning his back on the Kurds?  

“Certainly. Without doubt, without question. I think everyone in the United States who’s familiar with Syria policy has recognized that. Some Trump supporters think it’s okay while many people don’t think so but I don’t think anyone can argue that they haven’t done that. The SDF, which is led by Kurdish commanders, were the foot soldiers against ISIS in Syria and I think everybody knows that and so obviously, the answer can only be yes.”


Trump says that he will wipe out Turkey's economy if it wipes out the Syrian Kurds. However, President Erdogan has made it abundantly clear that he has already made his decision. What’s with the mixed messages?

“It’s very hard to read. He wants to get out of Syria and he’s made that very clear... This is the second time that he’s announced it and following both of his previous attempts, he had to walk it back to some extent.

he has this impulse to get out and it’s guided by his sense that his base doesn’t like international intervention, that it runs on a neo-isolationist ‘America-first’ impulse.”

In the process, he’s making the U.S. presence in Syria less and less but the case is still that he had tried to order the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria before and he was not able to do that. And so, he has this impulse to get out and it’s guided by his sense that his base doesn’t like international intervention, that it runs on a neo-isolationist ‘America-first’ impulse.”
 

Trump recently tweeted that, our “biggest mistake was going into the Middle East... acting like police.” Considering the countless lives lost, could he be right? 

“The Iraq war was a terrible mistake and I warned against it very heavily. Once you make a certain mistake, though, that’s the new reality and you have to live with it. if you want to extricate yourself, you have to extricate yourself carefully and properly.

Going in on the ground the way that Bush did in Iraq was a disastrous mistake. I was very strongly opposed to that, and that’s on the record. Trump was for it, as much as he loves to lie, he was. Now, in retrospect very few people don’t agree that it was a mistake, but it was a mistake; it was always going to be a mistake, I said it would be a mistake, I wrote a lot of articles saying that it would me a mistake.”
 

Could this lead to a resurgence of Da’esh in the region?

“Very easily. If the U.S. leaves the entire area and Erdogan’s forces go in and there’s a full battle between the SDF forces and the Turkish army, there will be long-term instability in the area… There will be various different kinds of conflicts and there will almost be no way to avoid a resurgence of ISIS.

We’ve seen this movie before with Obama in Iraq and now, there’s the big possibility for Al-Qaeda to come into eastern Syria for the first time in parts of the northwest

We’ve seen this movie before with Obama in Iraq and now, there’s the big possibility for Al-Qaeda to come into eastern Syria for the first time in parts of the northwest, etc. so you may well see Al-Qaeda showing up in these places, particularly if the ISIS resurgence is a difficult one.”
 

Numerous republicans have gone on the record and stated that this is the wrong call and that the president was wrong... Are they concerned that the Syrian militia will cease fighting ISIS cells in eastern Syria and go against the Kurds in the north?

“Yes. I think so, without doubt. There are thousands of ISIS detainees, fighters, family members, etc. being guarded by SDF forces. There they are, with these ISIS prisoners, and if they see the Turkish army coming at them or their village - the question is: Are they going to stay and guard the ISIS fighters or go and defend themselves and their villages? Also, there’s the disturbing possibility that you could see a combination of abandoning that role of guardians and in some cases, choosing execution rather than releasing the prisoners.

There are thousands of ISIS detainees, fighters, family members, etc. being guarded by SDF forces

It’s entirely possible to find that their answer is to shoot some of these prisoners, which is a very ugly idea but plausible. Many questions remain unanswered… What’s going to be done with all of these prisoners? Who’s going to fill the function of these Kurdish fighters if these fighters are going to be fighting the Turks? Is it okay for them to just abandon these things that they’re doing in order to defend themselves? Since one of the main things is holding ISIS prisoners, I think that ‘no, it’s not okay’ but that’s certainly going to happen.”


The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.


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