A certain outspoken pro regime change interventionist and neocon hawk from South Carolina must have heard that the war in Syria is winding down.
No doubt he spit out his coffee mid-gulp when reading a recent Washington Post headline declaring, "The world learns to live with Assad in Syria" set just above an image of the Syrian president with the bold-faced type, Here To Stay.
So what was Senator Lindsey Graham to do?
Naturally, he popped up in Northern Syria early this week, where he made a surprise visit to Manbij (near government-held Aleppo) to declare before cameras that a premature US troop withdrawal would be "terrible".
In a video of the brief trip which also included Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Graham is shown speaking with local US-backed forces, assuring them he would tell President Trump that it's “important we stay here and help you, you are friends of the US and if we leave it will be terrible, I will tell the story of Manbij to my colleagues, it is a place of hope in a region that needs hope."
Though leaders of local Kurdish forces (the Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF) smiled for the camera, it is unclear what their real feelings on the high level delegation might have been, as just days prior Graham met with Turkish President President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and said after the meeting, "Turkey needs to be a strategic partner for the US in a win-win fashion."
Of course, it is Erdogan's Turkey who early this year invaded Syrian Kurdish towns and villages in months-long swift military action it dubbed 'Operation Olive Branch' — killing untold numbers of men, women, and children, resulting in hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing their homes.
Even the Associated Press has recently painted a picture of what amounts to ethnic cleansing and a deliberate campaign of demographic engineering carried out by the Turks: "Turkey is growing long-term roots in northern Syria, building up an enclave on the model of its own towns. Turkish is taught in some schools and teachers are paid by Ankara," according to the AP report.
US forces which "partner" with Syrian Kurds have given a de facto stamp of approval to Turkish occupation:
Turkey is growing long-term roots in northern Syria, building up an enclave on the model of its own towns. Turkish is taught in some schools and teachers are paid by Ankara. Report from northern Syria by @seldeeb @malakharb @LPitarakis. https://t.co/0iZjV9lYeB pic.twitter.com/5aN8NokL1s— The Associated Press (@AP) June 19, 2018
After Turkish forces annexed Afrin Canton, Kurdish leaders called on the world "to stop cultural and political genocide against our society" at a moment when Turkish-backed FSA groups were openly vowing ethnic cleansing against Syrian Kurdish minorities.
And surely not lost on Syrian Kurdish leaders in Manbij is the fact that on the same day of Senator Graham's visit the official US coalition spokesman tweeted the following in praise of ongoing joint US-Turkish
occupation patrols in Manbij:
.@CJTFOIR #Coalition Forces along with #Turkey have conducted independent, coordinated patrols today along the #Manbij demarcation line. Both independent patrols remained on their side of the line while working together to achieve stability in the region #DefeatDaesh #Syria pic.twitter.com/dFgCK6d57W— Inherent Resolve (@CJTFOIR) July 2, 2018
As we recently explained, Syrian Kurdish groups are drifting into further negotiations and quiet de facto cooperation with Damascus at a time when the US is increasingly seen as throwing their Kurdish proxies under the bus after acquiescing last month to Erdogan's demands that Kurdish fighters withdraw from Manbij.
Syrian Kurdish leaders were enraged by the agreement, which allows for US and Turkish forces to patrol the northern Syrian city — though the Syrian Kurdish SDF wrested the city from ISIS in a major 2016 offensive.
In the midst of talks leading to the US-Turkey agreement for armed Kurdish withdrawal, Turkey's foreign minister called the YPG a "terrorist organization" which "cannot have any role in any city" (the YPG is the core component of the US-backed SDF).
Very good, respectful, and candid meeting with President Erdogan.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) June 29, 2018
We have real differences, but far more in common.
Turkey needs to be a strategic partner for the US in a win-win fashion. pic.twitter.com/mCc3AjWvVW
Turkish forces now occupy what the AP has identified as "over more than 4,000 square kilometers (1,500 square miles) of Syrian territory" and with "almost a quarter of Syria’s population... under Turkish control indirectly or directly — including 3.6 million refugees in Turkey, around 600,000 people living in the enclave [of Turkish controlled northern Syria]."
Meanwhile, Trump has again voiced his desire that US troops should withdrawal from Syria, reportedly discussing the issue with Jordan's King Abdullah in a closed door meeting last week.
Apparently, Lindsey Graham is making a last, desperate attempt to ensure US pullout doesn't happen, but likely his Syrian Kurdish hosts know the writing is on the wall: as "partner" US forces give a de facto stamp of approval to brutal Turkish occupation, the YPG and other groups will have no choice but to enter under Assad's umbrella.
No doubt, all of this likely made Sen. Graham's visit incredibly awkward. He should probably go home and not return again.