Episode

1/10 What’s Next in US Turkish Relations? w/ Steven A. Cook

January 10, 2019

Joining correspondent Michael Brooks on today’s program is Steven A. Cook (@stevenacook), the Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, to discuss the status of America’s Syria withdrawal and how Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and John Bolton’s cancelled meeting can help explain where the US Turkish relationship stands.

The Trump administration’s foreign policy agenda hardly seems to have any guiding vision at all–it looks more like bad improv that could bring mass suffering.  The basic premise of withdrawing from Syria is a positive one for US forces, but is it primarily a move to placate Turkey after the Khashoggi murder fallout? Cook explains how Trump and Erdogan discussed a withdrawal from Syria for over a month. According to Cook, Trump did not know that YPG, the Kurdish allies fighting alongside US forces in Syria, was considered a “terrorist organization” by Turkey and Erdogan. Trump then saw an opportunity to satisfy the wishes of Turkey and his base by pulling out of Syria. Looming over this development is the status of ISIS. Cook breaks down the history of Turkey’s conflict between Syrian Kurds, ISIS, and explains and why American forces did and didn’t intervene.

If any of this confuses you, we got you covered. Cook helps explains the difference between the PKK (Kurdistan) and YPG (Syrian Kurds) and their respective actions in their fight for autonomy in Turkey and Syria. The PKK helped set up the YPG, there is a linkage between the two, there are fighters working for both outfits which is a result of the nature of the conflict in Syria. Brooks explains that PKK have indeed employed violent tactics in order to establish their commendable social democratic ends–tactics not dissimilar from those used by the IRA in Northern Ireland.  American foreign policy experts are now considering whether or not to consider these Kurdish fighters are a terrorist organization. The Turks are pushing experts in Washington to lump Kurds into the same category of threat as ISIS and Al Qaeda.

Trump waffling on the US forces departure makes the Syrian conflict more complex. However, it also signals open season for bad actors in the region. For context, after Trump’s announcement Saudi Arabia rewrote its defense doctrine, allowing its armed forces to continue its bombing campaign in Yemen. Further, Turkey calling the Kurds terrorists shows that once US troops are out of Syria there will like be a direct conflict between Turkey and the Kurds.

If that was not enough Middle Eastern policy for you, Brooks and Cook serve up a quick rundown of el-Sisi’s Egypt after Sec. of State Mike Pompeo delivered a proverbial green light speech to the dictator’s leadership today.

And in the Fun Half: Trump knows his “absolute right” to declare a national emergency for the wall, Pelosi slams Trump’s inherited wealth after he left negotiations with Democratic leadership, Trump’s cartel car came after watching “Fast & Furious 4,” Mike Pence defends the president’s temper tantrum “he brought candy!” Anna Pressley stands in solidarity with furloughed federal workers, Mike Pompeo’s American empire doesn’t meet its own imperialist standards, Kamala Harris defended the idea of AOC’s proposals on the View, a “rational republican?” How the Overton window has moved on billionaires, plus your calls and IMs!

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