The former Pentagon official, Michael Rubin, said in an article in the American National Interest magazine that last week the U.S. Embassy in Turkey released a statement that said Washington had reached an agreement to implement “initial measures to address Turkey’s security concerns” and to establish a “peace corridor” inside Kurdish-controlled portions of Syria. The agreement aims to diffuse a crisis which saw the Turkish military mobilize along the Syrian border and threaten to occupy northern Syria, ostensibly to fight terrorism. The details of the agreement have not been made public.
Turkish officials have long complained that the U.S. partnership with Syrian Kurds is a betrayal of decades of U.S.-Turkey partnership.
The Turkish authorities are dead wrong to suggest equivalency between the YPG in Syria and the Islamic State. Indeed, the Turkish insistence is ironic given that the United States only began partnering with the YPG when evidence became overwhelming that Turkey’s political leadership—including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s own family—and intelligence services actively supported and profited from the Islamic State and other Al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria.
The problems with Turkish arguments are multifold. First, there is no evidence that the YPG or PKK plot or direct terror operations from Syria. This accusation was the stated reason behind Turkey’s launch in January 2018 of Operation Olive Branch but, twenty months later, it is clear the operation was more about ethnically cleansing the region’s Kurdish population than eradicating terrorism. Underlying both Turkish bad faith has been Turkey’s willingness to welcome several dozen Islamic State fighters into Turkey’s own militias now operating in Afrin. Most American officials—as well as a growing array of European and Arab diplomats—understand that Turkey misuses the terrorism label as a political weapon against opponents.
Spurious Turkish accusations against the YPG are only the tip of the iceberg. Erdoğan has accused rival politicians both from the predominantly Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) of supporting terrorism, imprisoning many.
That Turkish intelligence is based more on political expediency and wishful thinking than professional tradecraft is clear. The question for U.S. policymakers, then, becomes how long has Turkish intelligence been so corrupt? Long before today’s diplomatic crises, the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department have relied upon and integrated Turkish intelligence.
Simply put, Turkey and its National Intelligence Organization (MIT) appear to abuse the intelligence and diplomatic process by seeking to insert flawed and false intelligence in order to constrain and subvert U.S. diplomatic options. Rather than blindly accept Turkey’s accusations against the YPG, PKK, and top Kurdish intellectuals and activists, it is time the United States intelligence community audit every piece of intelligence that Turkey has provided over the past several decades to ensure that U.S. intelligence remains apolitical and uncorrupt and that Turkey does not abuse intelligence cooperation to interfere in U.S. diplomacy and policy formations. Perhaps such an audit will find that the conclusions now embraced by the Central Intelligence Agency and State Department are warranted. More likely, however, given the exposure of recent Turkish dossiers as fraudulent, it will become clear that a major reassessment is warranted in Washington. Either way, as the Trump administration and its Special Envoy on Syria James Jeffrey make life-and-death decisions that could impact the region for decades, no official should put the diplomatic nicety of taking Turkey at its word above a fundamental quest for truth.