On Thursday afternoon, U.S. President Donald Trump said during an event in Ohio that Washington will "be coming out of Syria, like, very soon," and added: "Let other people take care of it now." The president had implied the same thing before at a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud a week before, when he also asked for $4 billion.
When asked to comment on the president's remarks that ran counter to the defense secretary's announced policy, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said she was not aware of any plan for the U.S. to pull out.
This will not be the first time his officials ignore Trump's remarks that do not correspond to their plans, but Turkey has no such luxury. Trump is the president of the U.S. and the government needs to hold him and his country accountable for what he says.
It is no secret that the United States has a long history of catastrophic military interventions. Washington likes to follow a three-step plan when it comes to overseas campaigns. Deploy troops, declare victory then get the hell out. This time-tested approach is guaranteed to leave behind a total mess, which tends to turn conflict zones into breeding grounds for terrorist groups.
For now, no one, including the U.S. officials who will need to execute Trump's orders, have any idea when or how the withdrawal from Syria will take place. If previous U.S. troop withdrawals are taken as a model, we know they have no idea who will clean up the mess they made.
First the facts. U.S. policy in Syria, as formulated by former President Barack Obama, was pretty much limited to eliminating Daesh. It first sought a group that did its bidding without question, and did not mind if it was one that they had designated as a terrorist group. The U.S. started to arm it to the hilt during Obama's term and now under Trump wants to leave others to clean up the mess.
The PKK's Syrian-affiliated Democratic Union Party's (PYD) People's Protection Units (YPG) militia is now armed with heavy weapons and is committing human rights violations against Arabs, opposition Kurds and minorities.
If we are to take Trump at his word, the U.S. will now abandon the civilians in northern Syria to the mercy of YPG militants.
The worst mistake the YPG did was to perform cross-border attacks and target Turkish civilians, which forced Ankara to launch a ground offensive into Afrin on Jan. 20. Arming the YPG and then letting them loose is unacceptable.
If the U.S. fails to take the necessary precautions to stop the YPG from attacking Turkey, its NATO ally Turkey will have no choice but to take action. As Turkish officials repeatedly said in recent weeks, all options are on the table in the country's fight against YPG terrorists in northern Syria. Moreover, an abrupt departure could fuel ethnic tensions between Arabs and Kurds, which would only deepen the refugee crisis and place the national security of Syria's neighbors at risk by further destabilizing Syria.
Turkey's expectation from the U.S. is not a poorly-thought-out withdrawal intended to save face. Iraq and Afghanistan are still reeling from what the U.S. has called completed operations. What Ankara wants from its NATO ally is to work more closely to promote regional stability.
There is a right way to do everything. If the U.S. is desperate to leave, do it in an orderly way. First, collect or disable the heavy weapons given to the YPG and, only then, cooperate with Turkey to eliminate all terrorists in northern Syria.
The United States has an obligation to act more responsibly in the Middle East, where hundreds of thousands of lives could be placed at risk due to Washington's shortsightedness. Arming the Syrian affiliate of a designated terrorist organization was irresponsible to say the least. Compounding that error by turning tail will harm the region, allies and U.S. credibility.
MACRON WALTZES IN
It appears French President Emmanuel Macron never saw a crisis he did not want to make worse. As if one NATO ally betraying Turkey's trust was not enough, now the French president has decided to propose to act as an intermediary between Turkey and the YPG, the Syrian iteration of a group the EU recognizes as a terrorist group, as well.
If Macron is so willing to make deals with terrorists, he should first approach al-Qaida or Daesh, which have killed scores of French citizens. Until then, he should mind his own business and find other ways to rescue his already blighted political career.