The former US ambassador to Turkey Robert Pearson has some advice for policymakers before Rex Tillerson and James Mattis’s visits to Ankara next week.
The title of Pearson’s open letter, “US-Turkey cooperation remains vital for Syria”, is the kind that puts fear into the hearts of Kurds and their friends, as it suggests the US should sell out its reliable partners in Syria for that all-important NATO ally.
The body of the letter is anything but … The text and the recommendations are a recipe for placing a leash on the barking “shame, blame, and claim” dog Turkey.
The parts of the letter read like proof that there can be hilarity in diplomacy. For example, the link to the sentence “Turkey is investing heavily in the development of its own national weapons” takes you not to a 100-page tome detailing Turkish ambitions, but a 2-sentence long, 1-min read Reuters report from August 2016!
In the same spirit, I will try to make sense for you what Pearson’s recommendations may mean [in brackets]:
1- State that the security of Turkey is as important to us as the security of every other NATO ally, but underline that our NATO commitment requires Ankara’s partnership. In that respect, the U.S. offers to assist Turkey in preventing all cross-border transfers of personnel, arms and materiel to aid the insurgency in southeast Turkey. Further Turkish armed incursions against Kurds in Syria will render these offers null and void.
[Tell Turkey we care about her as we care about all our wives, but the marriage cannot continue if she is not committed. Tell them we don’t let any arms transfer to the PKK, but if Turkey continues attacking the YPG, we will arm the PKK.]
2- Restate the clear U.S. priority, based on our experience in Afghanistan in the 1980s and Iraq in the 2000s, to prevent ISIS and al-Qaeda resurgence in Syria and the region. Tell Ankara that any U.S. movement on the Kurdish issue requires Turkish movement on the ISIS issue.
[Remind Turkey that we armed the mujahideen against the Soviets and placed the boots on the ground in Iraq. We can do the same again. If you want us to stop helping Kurds, you stop helping ISIS]
3- Restate that an acceptable settlement for Syria within the U.N. process is our priority—the United States rejects the failing Sochi process engineered by Russia and Iran. Remind the Turks that the Sochi process puts no pressure whatsoever on Bashar Assad and thus far has legitimized his continued despotic rule.
[Tell them, “stop cheating on us with Russia, you wretched whore! You are giving comfort to our enemy in Damascus”]
4- State that the Kurds have a right of self-defense and a role in the determination of Syria’s postwar future. Repeat that the Jan. 14 characterization of a “border defense force” comprised of SDF fighters was inaccurate, but make clear that the Kurds cannot be left helpless before Assad, ISIS and Al Qaeda (or Turkey).
[Tell them that the Kurds are the new kid on the block. That time we called the kid’s powers “kosher,” we were wrong; it is “halal”. And if anyone touches that kid, we’ll be on them (even if it is you).
5- Offer centers of joint cooperation (observation posts, intelligence centers, and joint patrols) along the Turkish-Syrian border to help seal the border. In exchange, the Turks will not invade Kurdish-controlled territory east of the Euphrates.
[Invite them out for a walk along the Turkish-Syrian border so that they can see for themselves no one is invading the other side, not even across the Euphrates river!]
6- If Turkey agrees to cooperate on the points above, the United States will withdraw American forces to east of the Euphrates.
[Tell them if they behave themselves, we will watch them from across that river.]
7- Bring high-level experts from the Departments of State and Defense as well as the CIA to provide a detailed brief on the long-term threats to Syria and Turkey posed by Russia and Iran covering the following points:
[Tell them we are worried about the Russkies and the mullahs, and so should be Turkey because we know better.]
And so on. Read and smile.