Open letter to Senator Graham, who seems confused on Syria

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It has been just one week since I welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump's decision over the American troop withdrawal from Syria in this column. But I also said that I hope the withdrawal in question would be highly coordinated with Turkey as reports and official statements suggested last week. Accordingly, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Trump agreed that Turkey would fight against all the terrorist elements east of the Euphrates in Syria, while the U.S. will provide logistic support as a NATO ally should do.

Of course, Trump's decision caused an earthquake in Washington and the rest of the Middle East. While U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and U.S. anti-Daesh envoy Brett McGurk, who has been called "the Lawrence of Arabia of our time" in Turkey, resigned in the wake of Trump's Syria pullout declaration, Israel did not hesitate to express its disappointment with regards to Trump's decision and said that it would continue to carry out its operations in Syria. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and Sudan started to give signals of accepting Assad back into the Arab League after Syria's membership was suspended in 2011 when the Syrian civil war broke out.

In my column last week, I also said that I hope we won't see any sabotage or attempts to change Trump's decision to withdraw and the Turkish army's filling the void.

Interestingly enough, the harshest criticism in Washington against the U.S. president came from senior Republican Senator Lindsay Graham. We all remember that Senator Graham was the very first senator who criticized former U.S. President Barack Obama's wrong decisions and actions in deciding to use the outlawed PKK's Syrian offshoot, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), as a ground force in Syria to fight against the notorious terror organization Daesh.

Since the beginning of the eight year-long war, Graham criticized Obama for moving too slowly to assist the Syrian opposition and suggested that the U.S. government become directly involved in arming Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's opponents when Assad had already killed more than 100,000 of his people.

In a session of the U.S. Senate Armed Service Committee in 2015, Sen. Graham grilled both former U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Marine Corps General Joseph F. Dunford over the Obama administration's inaction in Syria. Graham asked whether it is true or not that those backed by the U.S. wanted to destroy Assad and get rid of Daesh, and Gen. Dunford had to admit it. He clearly criticized Obama's strategy and said word by word, "We are not gonna do a damned thing to help the people who want to change Syria for the better by getting rid of the dictator in Damascus, while Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are gonna fight for their guy."

He added: "If I am Assad, this is a good day for me, because the American government has just said without saying it that they are not going to fight to replace me… What you've done, gentlemen, along with the president, you have turned Syria over to Russia and Iran; you told the people in Syria who died by hundreds of thousands, we are more worried about a political settlement than we are about what follows. All what I can say is: It is a sad day for America, and the region will pay hell for this cost."

It sounds like Sen. Graham has only worried about Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah so far, but it doesn't end here. In another session in 2016, Lindsay Graham questioned Ash Carter on U.S. support for the PYD, its armed wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG), and their relation to the PKK. While the U.S. administration kept refusing to see tons of obvious evidence that Turkey has shown about the direct link between the PYD/YPG and the PKK, Graham asked Carter: "Reports indicate that they are aligned or at least have substantial ties with the PKK. Is that true?" Carter admitted it. When Graham asked if the PKK is a terrorist organization in the eyes of the Turkish government, Carter found no place to escape and said, "The PKK is a terrorist organization not only in the eyes of Turkey's government, but i

n the eyes of the U.S. government as well."

When Graham asked if it is surprising that Turkey is upset with the U.S. administration arming the YPG in Syria which is aligned with the PKK, Carter tried to find the right words and said, "We have extensive consultations with the Turks." However, Graham interrupted Carter's sentences and contradicted him, saying that he was recently in Turkey and the Turkish government was not happy with U.S. support for the PYD and the YPG. "We are arming people inside of Syria who are aligned with a terrorist group, that is the finding of the Turkish government. They think this is the dumbest idea in the world, and I agree with them," Graham said.

Jeffrey's words

It was not just him, but also the late Senator John McCain who criticized the U.S. administration many times, saying that the U.S. does not understand President Erdoğan's seriousness about the PYD/YPG. Also a senior diplomat and an expert in political, security, and energy issues in the Middle East, Turkey, etc., who has recently become the U.S. Special Representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, admitted once again at a panel on Nov. 15, 2018, that the PYD/YPG is the Syrian branch of the PKK terror group. Jeffrey also said, "The U.S. operations in Syria could not be done without the active participation, coordination and cooperation of Turkey."

That is why people in Turkey have been glad to start hearing the right words from Washington, while Ankara has chosen to be on the safe side and see if the U.S. will keep its promises this time. However, the most visibly angry American at Trump's decision to remove troops from Syria has very interestingly been Lindsay Graham. Threatening to pursue more aggressive oversight of the Republican administration's foreign policy decision and contradicting his former stance, Graham expressed his annoyance resembling Trump's decision to a "huge Obama-like mistake."

Misrepresentation on the PKK

He was the one who over the past two years has tried to convince Trump to change course on international affairs. He was the one who said the U.S. let down the Syrian opposition and left Syria to Assad, Hezbollah, Iran and Russia. He was the one who agreed with the Turkish government about U.S. support to the PYD/YPG. He was the one who said that the PYD/YPG is aligned with the designated foreign terrorist organization PKK. But all of a sudden, he started to refer to the PKK's Syrian offshoot PYD as "the Kurds," in a way that the U.S. media misrepresented the terrorist group as the representative of the Kurds, while they gave huge support to Obama's Syria campaign based on the PKK.

After he had lunch with Trump this weekend, Graham said that Trump would make sure "that our allies, the Kurds, are protected." It is absolutely shocking. Is the PYD/YPG, which is aligned with the terror organization PKK, one of your allies now, Sen. Graham? What happened to your wise, consistent and logical stance? Have you forgotten what you said before? Have you forgotten how many Kurds had to be displaced because Assad gave the north of Syria to the PKK in 2012 even before the U.S. started to give support to the outlawed PKK's Syrian branch? And don't you see that the first door the PYD/YPG knocked on right after Trump's decision is Damascus? And one last question, who are you going to protect the PKK from, Sen. Graham? Obviously not Iran, as Iran has had no problem with the PYD/YPG in Syria since the beginning. They were furious at the terrorist organization just because it chose Washington instead of Tehran. Or Russia? We all know that Russia does not even see the PKK as a terrorist organization and wants to see the PYD in Syria's future. Then you mean that you are going to protect the PKK's Syrian offshoot from Turkey? The country you visited two years ago and totally agreed with about the PYD/YPG?

Well, Sen. Graham, you may have convinced Trump to refashion his decision over Syria and helped others, who still insist on Obama's Syria plan, to gain some time to make a new one to change Trump's mind, but it is crystal clear that those people who can't manipulate Trump about the PKK anymore have reached you, gotten into your head and deranged you.

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