A moment of decision for Donald Trump
Four Americans including two soldiers, one Department of Defense official and a US “civilian contractor” believed to have been an intelligence agent, have been killed after an apparent suicide bomb was detonated in the northern Syrian city of Manbij earlier today. The blast came 24 hours after it was confirmed that Turkey and the US would work cooperatively during the phased US withdrawal of troops from Syria, during which time a 30km safe zone would be established along the Syrian border with Turkey in order to insure the safety of Turkish civilians from YPG/PKK and Daesh attacks.
While today’s bombing was claimed by Daesh according to early unverified reports, it remains a mystery as to just who was actually behind the attack. Clearly though, whoever conducted the bombing had a clear motive of attempting to provoke an American over-reaction at a time when the peace in northern Syria hinges upon a smooth and orderly regime of cooperation between Ankara and Washington. In this sense, whoever conducted today’s attack is not only an enemy of the general peace but an enemy of Turko-US reconciliation. In this sense, the YPG/PKK had every bit as much motive as Daesh to stage the attack, even if this meant sacrificing some of their own fighters in order to convince the world that it was Daesh.
Reagan and Lebanon
Today’s attack however pales in comparison to the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings. After two truck bombs exploded in barracks housing troops from the Multinational Force in Lebanon (MFL), 241 Americans were left dead along with 58 French troops and 6 civilians. The bombing led to a US and French counter attack on forces in the Lebanese Civil War that were allegedly behind the carnage, but more importantly, months after the attack, US President Ronald Reagan ordered a full withdrawal of US personnel from Lebanon. By March of 1984, the MFL no longer existed.
Ronald Reagan remains a hero to many in Donald Trump’s Republican party and as such, this would be a useful time to remind them of Reagan’s decision to withdraw from Lebanon rather than face more American deaths in a war that had nothing to do with the safety of the United States. In Syria, the same situation applies. While 1983 was one of the deadliest years of Lebanon’s 15 year long Civil War, at present, the war in Syria is dying down and gradually metamorphosing into a political peace process. If the situation is to remain this way, rather than answering today’s provocation in the way that the provocateurs desire, it would be far better of the US to contribute to a process of de-escalation through regionalisation.
Turkey is uniquely placed to bring peace to northern Syria
It would be far better for Syria’s neighbour Turkey along with its Astana partners take control of the situation in northern Syria so that regionally derived peace processes can begin to take shape. If the almost eight year long conflict in Syria has taught the world anything, it is that Syria edges closer to peace when regional solutions are prioritised over those authored in far away states and executed by armed forces that are less familiar with Syria than neighbouring and nearby states.
This was true long before today’s events and the only thing that has changed as result of the deaths of four Americans ought to be a commitment to if anything, speed up the US withdrawal and commence an orderly handover to Turkish authorities who are highly capable of fighting terror in the region due to their connections with and knowledge of various anti-YPG/PKK and anti-Daesh forces in Syria.
While Reagan was faced with the deaths of hundreds of American in a single incident, the four Americans who died today will cause many in the US to seek answers and ultimately to seek solutions so that such a thing cannot happen again. Clearly, the only solution is a time tested and law abiding commitment to bring the boys back home as Donald Trump has vowed to do.
In spite of a peace process subsuming the role of armed conflict in Syria, there are clearly still battles to be fought as Turkey and its partners know all too well. But these battles are not for the United States to fight and they certainly are not battles for which the American people want to sacrifice their sons in order to fight. A regional peace process and accompanying anti-terror missions by Turkey and its partners will be the most effective and ultimately the most bloodless way to bring peace to Syria’s north, the last part of the country where the conflict remains one of urgency.