Turkey, the Kurds, and Lots and Lots of US Weapons

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Turkey, a U.S. ally in Syria, attacks another U.S. ally in Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led group of militias whose very existence is anathema to the Turkish government—and the Trump Administration does nothing to prevent it. Trump’s indifference is appropriately denounced by the leadership of both political parties—Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes the planned “precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces” from Syria, and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls upon the president to “reverse this dangerous decision.” But is this bipartisan leadership consensus that American troops must remain in Syria really the only alternative? Is there no way to stop Turkey, other by interposing American troops? Well, at the least, there is one other obvious path as yet untread upon: Want to stop Turkey from attacking another ally? Take away their guns, and their tanks, and their planes, and their…

According to GlobalSecurity.org, Turkey has about 2550 armored personnel carriers, of which 99% are America made, as are all but two of its 170 fixed wing aircraft. Less than 1% of Turkey’s 760 “towed” artillery are homemade; the rest, again, are manufactured here. 80% of its 990 “self-propelled” artillery pieces are made in the U.S.A. Less than 2% of Turkey’s 3,250 “Main Battle Tanks” are manufactured there; 53% are American made; another 24% are joint U.S./Israel products. (The rest come from Germany.) In short, the Turkish military doesn’t function without the U.S. weapons industry—and the approval of the U.S. government. Absent all the hardware bearing Made in America stickers sitting in Turkish military bases, we would probably not be fretting about what Turkey’s government was doing to the Syrian Democratic Forces.

So, what if the U.S. government were to simply tell Turkey to desist? Yes, it’s true that theoretically the Turkish government could opt to break with Washington and proceed with their attack using the equipment already on hand. But realistically, if it was told that there would be no replacements in the pipeline unless it called off this attack, it seems highly likely that we would see some serious behavior modification—pdq.

How does it not occur to our national leaders to at least promote such a commonsensical step? Trump we need not discuss, immersed as he is in the “alternative facts” that reign in his White House. But Pelosi and McConnell? It would appear that the course of pulling the plug on the Turkish war machine is just unthinkable to them. At this point, the idea of sending and maintaining American troops 6000 miles away to prevent an ally from carrying out an attack apparently seems the more reasonable and familiar option to them.

And, to be fair, we can see how they got to this point, since Congress annually appropriates funding for over 800 foreign military bases. Adding to the militarization of a situation and sending in the Marines is standard operating procedure for them. On the other hand, the interruption of the militarization of the situation by threatening to cut off the transfer of military equipment is so far out of the Capitol playbook that it no doubt now seems the more radical direction there—one with the potential to cause a genuine international crisis.

And there could, after all, also be serious implications for the “defense” industry, which would not be confined to the nation’s capital, given that the industry has been carefully constructed to involve every region of the country. And it would certainly have grave implications for the current nameless, permanent state of war formerly known as the “War on Terror.”

In short, placing American military personnel in harm’s way apparently carries less political risk than endangering the profits of munitions manufacturers, or the careers of foreign policy experts. This is the mindset of war without end; war so ubiquitous that it remains largely unnoticed most of the time. It is but another example of why the bi-partisan Washington foreign policy consensus has got to go—along with the people who purvey it.

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