Monday, February 25, 2019

Vox Popoli: War and rumors of war

The Times of Israel is reporting on an Israeli government minister's statement about how the US President and the Israeli Prime Minister are going to divide Jerusalem in the latest iteration of a Middle East "Peace Plan":
Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump were planning to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and divide Jerusalem.

Speaking before a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Bennett, who now heads the New Right party, warned the shift in Netanyahu’s declared position would come “a day or two after election day” on April 9.

Shortly after the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu responded to Bennett’s claim with a terse denial.

“It’s natural for him to be anxious, and to get a little confused,” Netanyahu said of Bennett. “It goes without saying that elections can do funny things to small parties.”

In a statement, Netanyahu’s Likud party called Bennett’s warning “utter piffle with no connection to reality. After the elections, Netanyahu will establish a right-wing government under his leadership.”

In his initial comments to the press, Bennett said that the Trump administration had completed its plan for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

“Netanyahu and President Trump have agreed to come out with the plan to establish a Palestinian state on 90 percent [of the West Bank]. They’ve agreed not to present the plan before election day so that it doesn’t hurt Netanyahu, but a day or two after election day the plan will be presented, and will include the division of Jerusalem.”

In the meanwhile, the US has gone back on the promises it made to the Turkish government in order to prevent Turkey from invading northern Syria.

The so called Manbij Roadmap was signed in June, 2018, a full 6 months before Trump’s withdrawal announcement. The deal requires the US to work with Turkey to remove all terrorist groups from Manbij– which is a Syrian city east of the Euphrates– and to assist with security during the transition period. This was the deal the US made with Erdogan during a period of heightened tensions between the two NATO allies. The agreement was made to placate Erdogan and to forestall the imminent invasion by Turkish troops massed on the Syrian border. Readers need to understand that Turkey is not behaving irrationally or precipitously. The Trump team made the deal, and Turkey expects them to keep that deal, that is the long and short of it.

The media has also mischaracterized Trump’s December 19th announcement to withdraw all 2,000 US troops from Syria bringing an end to the failed 8 year-long military campaign. The announcement was not the decision of an unstable and impulsive autocrat who had no real grasp of the situation. (as the media would like you to believe) What the media failed to report is that Trump had discussed the issue with a frustrated Erdogan just days earlier, and he decided to withdraw to avoid an acrimonious split with a NATO ally who was threatening to invade at any minute. Check out this article at the Guardian dated December 12, 2018, just 7 days before Trump’s announcement.

“The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has said that Turkey will launch a military operation against the Kurds in northern Syria within days, in a decision that could signal a shift in Turkish-US relations and have far-reaching consequences for Syria’s future.

Long frustrated by US support for Kurdish militias that Turkey views as terrorists, Erdoğan has threatened to push deeper into north-eastern Syria since sending Turkish forces into the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in February.

The president said during a televised speech in Ankara on Wednesday that the operation was imminent. “We will begin our operation to free the east of the Euphrates [river] from the separatist organisation within a few days,” he told MPs. “Our target is not the American soldiers – it is the terror organisations that are active in the region.”

Erdoğan also expressed disappointment that US-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria had not left the town of Manbij, as agreed in a US-Turkish deal brokered this year. “The Americans are not being honest; they are still not removing terrorists [from Manbij],” he said. “Therefore, we will do it.”
(Turkey primed to start offensive against US-backed Kurds in Syria, The Guardian)

There was no mention of Erdogan’s threats in any of the mainstream news publications. The focus was almost entirely on Trump who was blasted as impetuous and ignorant, a foreign policy dilettante. In fact, Trump was merely pursuing the rational option, which was to give ground on Turkey’s legitimate national security needs while concealing his real motives for the policy-change. Naturally, he couldn’t say the US was withdrawing because of Turkey’s sabre rattling, but that, in fact, is what happened. And that’s why Trump announced a ‘complete withdrawal of US troops’; it was a clumsy effort to hide the fact that Washington was backing down on their plan to control the area up to the Turkish border. The Trump team tried to make it look like the president was just keeping a campaign promise, but–as you can see– there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Now, of course, the administration has abandoned its withdrawal plan and decided to keep 400 troops in Syria indefinitely. Unfortunately, the new policy only further exacerbates the tension between the US and Turkey. The reduction in troops does not in any way alleviate Turkey’s security concerns, in fact, it worsens them because it indicates that Washington is more resolved than ever to preserve the status quo. If the US and their multinational allies stay, the YPG will continue to occupy Manbij and other territory along the Turkish border, the de facto independent Kurdish state in East Syria will be preserved, and Turkey will be prevented from resettling the more than 3 million Syrian refugees it has housed for the last 8 years. So, how exactly does Turkey benefit from this troop-reduction plan?

It doesn’t. Turkey doesn’t get anything out of the deal. Nor does the new arrangement fulfill the basic requirements of the Manbij Roadmap. There won’t be any joint Turkish-US patrols because Washington is now committed to keeping Turkey out of Syria altogether in order to “protect the Kurds”, which is a misleading sobriquet that is used to hide the real motive, which is to occupy east Syria and protect Washington’s terrorist-linked militia.

So, will Trump’s modified plan work? Will Erdogan see the withdrawal of some US troops as an honest attempt at peace and security?

No, of course not, because nothing has changed. The only choice Erdogan has is to ratchet up the pressure by delivering more threats to invade. And that is precisely the course that Erdogan has decided to pursue. 

So, not only will Turkey likely invade, but it now knows what the Russians have learned, which is that there is no point in even trying to reach an agreement with the United States, because the USA does not keep its word. And while the US military gets entangled everywhere from Afghanistan to Venezuela, Russia and China continue to bide their time and quietly improve their carrier-killing capabilities.

It's really rather remarkable how every US president since Nixon seems utterly determined to throw themselves on the sword of their own Mid-East "Peace Plan". I know literally nothing about the latest one, but I do know this: it won't work.