Saturday 19 October 2019

US Congress must save Trump from himself (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Graham-Van Hollen sanctions bill against Turkey needs to be adopted at speed if Washington is to recover from the geopolitical effects of its Kurdish betrayal.

WASHINGTON: President Trump’s betrayal of the only US ally that was effective against ISIS needs to be countered speedily by a veto-proof passage in both Houses of the US Congress of the Graham-Van Hollen bill mandating sanctions against Turkey. Throughout 2012-18, President Erdogan armed, housed and trained “freedom fighters” who began cutting the throats of Christians, Druze, Yazidi, Shia and moderate Sunnis, as soon as they were inserted into Syria by a Turkish military that has had its anti-Wahhabi compass broken by Erdogan. Just as Hitler was not challenged in 1936 at the Rhineland, neither were those who over the past six years looked the other way as ISIS fighters massacred innocents. Just as the Pakistan army had got the US to fund the revival of the Taliban from 2005 onwards by certifying fanatics as “moderates”, the other members of NATO assisted Turkey while it let loose extremist killers on the Syrian people. Alzheimer’s is said to cause difficulties in cogent thought, and the most charitable statement that can be made about President Donald J. Trump’s decision to abandon the Kurdish allies of the US to the killing machine on the Turkish side is that the effects on thought of this ailment may explain his actions. What is being asked of the YPG—the only force on the US side that succeeded against ISIS rather than connived with it—is collective suicide of Kurdish security. The YPG already made a grievous error in surrendering some forward positions after the US assured them that this would keep the Turkish army from invading. It ought to have been clear to them that such a retreat would ensure an advance by Erdogan’s troops, which is what has happened. If the Kurds are to accept the Instrument of Surrender prepared on their behalf in Ankara by the US side, they would put to naught nearly two decades of fighting to win at least some elements of dignity through self-rule. They have no choice but to stay within their existing locations and do battle with the Turkish forces, together with Iran, Russia and the pro-Assad groups. Should the last three warn Erdogan against his plan of invading a broad strip of land inside Syria, it is unlikely that he would go ahead. The President of Turkey knows that the bluster of Donald J. Trump can be ignored, but that Vladimir Putin is serious about fulfilling his obligations to allies.
Vice-President Mike Pence surely knows that what he is proposing would place the Kurds at the mercy of the Turks, but loyalty to Trump apparently outweighs all other considerations, including the fact that the mistakes regarding Syria made by a befuddled US President are certain to revive ISIS, besides persuading multiple countries that the US has become an Ally from Hell under the 45th President of the US, ready to betray allies at whim. The 1,300 extra US troops inducted into Saudi Arabia offer no defence. Any systematic thrust by a foe such as Iran or even the Houthis would send Trump scurrying for the exit. The US President apparently believes that all relationships should be transactional, the way paid lovemaking is. The problem with lovemaking that is dictated by wallets is that a stable relationship is not possible under such circumstances. Some other power may come up with what is regarded as a better offer, and the existing alliance will crumble, just as that with the Kurds did. Small wonder that even Saudi Arabia is torn about whether to let go of the nearly two centuries of close security ties that the Kingdom has had with first Britain and later the successor to several British relationships, the US. Trump’s reluctance to follow the processes mandated by law and impose tough CAATSA sanctions on Turkey for inducting the S-400 system into its arsenal has opened the way for India, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to go in for what is undoubtedly a good system, although not worth the economic meltdown that would be caused by severe CAATSA sanctions, which Turkey at least believes to be a hollow threat. Unless the US Congress steps in to repair the damage to both US interests as well as to global security caused in Syria and Turkey by the US President, they would be less than faithful to their oaths of office. The surrender document he prepared in Ankara to transfer the security of US allies to their worst foes will haunt Mike Pence for the rest of his life.
Lindsey Graham seems to have broken loose of Wahhabi influence, and the Graham-Van Hollen sanctions bill against Turkey needs to be adopted at speed with veto-proof majorities in both Houses of the US Congress, if Washington is to recover from the geopolitical effects of its Kurdish betrayal. After the 1938 betrayal of Czechoslovakia, there was a brief period of joy in Britain and France because of the “Peace in our time” delusion. After the 2019 betrayal of the Kurds by Trump, there has not been even a few seconds of such false optimism. It is clear that confidence in the US as an ally has sharply diminished and that ISIS has been given a second chance at spreading its toxicity across the world, especially in Europe and the Middle East. The US Congress must be aware that after the 1993 collapse of the USSR, a new rival has risen to challenge US primacy, and this is China. There are those (though these days fewer in the Pentagon) who still consider Turkey to be a “NATO ally”, when under Erdogan that country has moved away from the alliance in a fundamental way, and is seeking to anchor itself within the China-Russia alliance. While Putin may make good use of the familiarity of the Turks with NATO and its weaponry and tactics, he is unlikely to bring Turkey into an alliance that regards Wahhabism as a threat to be eliminated. Another Wahhabi power, Pakistan, has been an ally of China since the 1970s, but it is only a matter of time before Beijing tots up the gains and losses of its alliance with Pakistan, and accepts that the losses are now far greater than the gains. The China-Russia alliance accepts Turkey not as a full ally but as a fellow traveller, useful to have around without getting overly close with. As for China, it is aware that the surest path to the desired China-Russia-India partnership is to abandon its hyper-expensive coddling of the Pakistan military.
Should the US Congress avoid passing the Graham-Van Hollen bill with veto-proof majorities, the Syria effect on present and future US alliances will be profound. Should he get his way on Syria, it will be Donald J. Trump who creates the conditions for India to consider joining up with China and Russia in a world where that alliance system is developing a far greater challenge to US primacy than the USSR ever did.

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