A year into Donald Trump's presidency, Washington finds itself in an unprecedented state of confusion. And it does not just affect the White House, either.
Various U.S. government agencies seem unable to agree whether their primary allies in Syria are terrorists. As of today, the CIA identifies the Democratic Union Party (PYD) as the PKK terrorist organization's Syrian wing. The organization was recently listed among terrorist groups operating in Syria alongside al-Qaida and others. Meanwhile, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and the Pentagon continue to push the narrative that the PKK and PYD are two distinct entities – the former a terrorist organization and the latter, in their view part of the anti-Daesh coalition. However, it would appear that the CIA just accused a number of agencies of collaborating with terrorists.
The elaborate lie that U.S. officials have been telling the American people and the rest of the world finally caught up with them on Thursday, when State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert had a memorable slip of the tongue in front of the cameras: "Turkey has taken its eye off ISIS, and is going after the PKK this time," she complained, referring to Daesh.
The hot-button issue that has severely strained Washington's relations with Ankara seems to have started a civil war within the U.S. government. Needless to say, CENTCOM and the Pentagon have been the chief advocates of Washington's controversial partnership with the PKK's Syrian branch in recent years. The original plan to provide political and military support to the group was approved by then President Barack Obama's administration and subsequently sold to the Trump administration, which has been preoccupied with problems at home.
Although sensible people like Senator Lindsey Graham criticized Obama in April 2016 for supporting the PYD and YPG, their voices were silenced by what former White House aide Ben Rhodes proudly called the echo chamber. During this period, certain U.S. media outlets such as the New York Times were complicit in Washington's crimes in Syria. At least for the Pentagon, the bad news is that supporting terrorist organizations is a crime under U.S. law 18 U.S. Code § 2339B concerning illegal material support to foreign terrorist groups. Similarly, Section 2339A stipulates that providing resources is subject to prosecution.
Today, the question is how the United States can backtrack on an unconstitutional Syria strategy without losing face.
The Trump administration would be best served by listening to the CIA and ending Washington's support of the PKK's Syrian affiliate and refraining from breaking U.S. law. It is not just what Turkey wants. It is what the U.S. law requires.