US should follow Senator Graham’s line on Syria

US should follow Senator Graham’s line on Syria

South Carolina’s Republican Senator Lindsey Graham’s visit to Ankara in a critical moment of developments in Syria was very significant for multiple reasons.

First and foremost, it’s about timing. His visit comes only a month after United States President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw troops from Syria and only 10 days after senior Turkish and American officials met for the first time to discuss the pullout process, a post-withdrawal Syria and the future status of the YPG.

Considering that White House National Security Adviser John Bolton’s trip to the Turkish capital on Jan. 8 failed to establish necessary ground for cooperation in this process, the importance of Graham’s mission has almost doubled.

Graham, after extensive talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as well as the defense and foreign ministers and the intelligence chief, will return home fully informed on the Turkish positions, concerns, priorities and objectives over and beyond the withdrawal of the U.S. troops.

He made clear that he will convey all these to Trump in an effort to bridge a gap between the two capitals over a number of contested issues.

This will help the two countries engage in a healthier and sounder way when talks will resume early February in Washington D.C.

Another key factor on the timing of this visit is that Erdoğan will travel to Moscow on Jan. 23 where he will hold bilateral and trilateral talks with the Russian and Iranian presidents, Vladimir Putin and Hasan Rouhani. Erdoğan is therefore going to Moscow still with some hope that he will be able to engage with Washington which would help him better negotiate with Putin and Rouhani.

The second aspect about Graham’s visit was related with Washington’s purpose of reversing the negative image and perspective of the U.S. in the eyes of both the Turkish officials and the Turkish public opinion and media.

In the last two weeks, statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Bolton, as well as Trump’s threatening tweets that depicted Turkey in a preparation of an attack against the “Syrian Kurds,” had created anger in Turkey against the U.S.

That’s why a mission to Ankara by a senator who had already urged the U.S. not to partner with the YPG back in 2015 could help reverse this anti-American sense.

Graham perfectly used this opportunity by accepting Erdoğan’s invitation to pianist Fazıl Say’s concert, by organizing a comprehensive press conference and giving exclusive interviews to a number of private broadcasters.

Graham’s messages on the YPG’s integrated links with the PKK and that the U.S. had created a nightmare for Turkey by choosing the YPG as its main partner in the fight against ISIL were welcomed by the media and the public opinion here.

Third is about the conciliatory tone Graham used when he was assuring Turkey that a proposed safe zone will protect the Turkish borders and citizens from terrorists but at the same time that the U.S. will disallow any military action against the partners in the field against ISIL.

Plus, he was very clear that the U.S. should no longer delay the implementation of the Manbij road map and therefore the withdrawal of the YPG from this Arab city.

He used a similar narrative with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who has long been urging the U.S. that a smooth implementation of the road map in Manbij would have reflections in other parts of Syria, particularly in the east of River Euphrates.

The fourth aspect he pointed out as an urging issue to both Turkey and the U.S. was about a parallelism he drew between the courses of developments in Syria with that of Iraq in the last decade.

“So if we don’t think this through, this is going to be Iraq on steroids,” he said on the consequences of a hasty and disorderly withdrawal from Syria.

In short, Graham’s very timely visit should be well capitalized by both capitals in order not to turn it into a mere public relations mission.

Serkan Demirtaş,