(TMU Op-Ed) — Turkey’s offensive into Syria bears all the hallmarks of a potential crime. It is also has the added uncertain elements of a potential regrouping of the remnants of the Islamic State’s caliphate, as thousands of prisoners could end up being freed once key positions are abandoned by Kurdish forces, or overrun by Turkey.
Yet no one seems to be asking if in fact this is one of the covert aims of the offensive, given Turkey has been heavily documented as a key backer of ISIS forces in Syria for years. Sounds absurd, but we are talking about a regime who was caught providing ISIS fighters with medical treatment.
Still, the media’s framing of this offensive seems to be part and parcel of its overall coverage of the Syrian war since 2011. We should care about the human rights of the Kurds when faced with a rapidly advancing Turkish onslaught, but when US president Donald Trump systematically brought about the death of between 9,000 and 11,000 civilians in Mosul, we are supposed to turn a blind eye. (11,000 is still a conservative estimate).
We should care about Turkey violating international law, but should not even question the United States for equally violating international law right across the geopolitical chessboard. We should accuse Donald Trump of abandoning our Kurdish allies by removing its forces from the region, yet we shouldn’t question why or how the US came to occupy sovereign Syrian territory in the first place.
Under the Trump administration, the US military came to occupy close to one third of Syrian territory, including its most oil rich region. In the process of doing so, the US razed 80 per cent of the Syrian city of Raqqa to the ground, with countless civilian deaths. Even during this offensive, both the BBC and Reuters reported that the US made a secret deal with ISIS to allow hundreds (if not thousands) of its top level commanders to escape Raqqa quite safely.
This is easily one of the biggest scandals of Trump’s legacy; yet no one even talks about it. How can it be that the mainstream media is concerned with a potential re-emergence of ISIS, without even discussing these damning reports?
Likewise, how can it be that the only scandal worth considering the impeachment of this violently law-breaking administration be a phone call with the Ukrainian leadership?
For as long as most of us can remember, the US has racked up a monumental civilian death toll in a number of ill-begotten wars across the planet. Whether Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen, the US has killed millions of innocent civilians. In this period, civilian deaths have not only been normalized, but they have been accelerating under Trump’s rule, particularly in Syria. It is easy to point the finger at Turkey’s Erdogan, but we could likewise point the finger at Trump for committing massacres left, right and centre.
If the mounting death toll is anything to go by, it does appear that the US did effectively abandon its Kurdish allies after relying on them to help defeat ISIS forces. Ankara’s systemic hatred of the Kurdish independence movement means we cannot be indifferent to the suffering and violence they will be forced to undergo.
But if we are to care about human rights, we need to care about them right across the board, including and especially when it is the US launching offensives and delivering the missiles. Maybe if we did, Turkey and other parties involved in Syria might actually take our humanitarian concerns seriously.
Yemen would be the perfect place to start (which as you will note, fails to receive the headlines that the Turkey-Syria offensive appears to be receiving).