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Western readers are not aware that since the early 1500s, Syria was part of the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of modern Turkey. So were Iraq, Palestine — today’s Israel — Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Iraq’s vast oil fields used to belong to the Ottoman Empire until the British Empire grabbed them at the end of World War I. France seized Syria and Lebanon. Both former imperial powers are still mucking around in the region today, creating some challenging issues — story for another day.
The United States has zero historic interest in the region. U.S. troops in Syria appear to have come from the U.S. garrison in Iraq, which, as former Vice President Dick Cheney hoped, would become a central U.S. military base for the entire Mideast. The Washington war party is moaning that Trump has “betrayed” the Kurds while its unofficial head, Sen. Lindsey Graham, is demanding more war in Syria.
The Kurds have been used and betrayed since 1918 and always seem to get the short end of the stick. The old Kurdish saying, “no friends but the mountains,” is painfully true. Washington does not want to get involved in a new Kurdish state carved out of Syria or Iraq even though Israel is pushing it hard to further splinter the Mideast. Iraq’s and Syria’s oil deposits are still a powerful lure for imperial-minded power.
The region in question is hardly the beating heart of Syria. It looks large on the map but is mostly desert and scrub, dotted by miserable little villages with Arab or Kurdish populations. Turkey, which has more than 2 million Syrian refugees, is eager to begin repatriation of this massive burden created by its policy errors and the Western powers. Russia, which is selling Turkey its very capable S-400 anti-aircraft system, is watching with delight as old allies Turkey and the U.S. split.
Trump needs to tread carefully since vital U.S. bases at Incirlik and Adana Turkey and his hotel properties in Istanbul could be compromised.