Love Anyway

BREAKING: US Withdraws from Syria (And it Could Lead to War)

We can’t follow the news right now without seeing headlines about US pullout from northeastern Syria. So, what’s happening? What are the implications? Why is this withdrawal so important...and so potentially devastating?

We can’t follow the news right now without seeing headlines about US pullout from northeastern Syria. So, what’s happening? What are the implications? Why is this withdrawal so important…and so potentially devastating?


Show Notes

It’s been a difficult week across the Middle East, from protests in Iraq to the recent news that the US administration is withdrawing its presence from northeastern Syria. On this breaking episode of the Love Anyway podcast, we hear from our Preemptive Love team about how the decision by the US to pull out of northeastern Syria could have reverberations that last generations.

We can’t follow the news right now without seeing headlines about US pullout from northeastern Syria. So, what’s happening? What are the implications? Why is this withdrawal so important…and so potentially devastating, not just for our friends in Syria, but for all of us?

A child in northeastern Syria. Photo by Matt Willingham/Preemptive Love

In This Episode…

We speak with Preemptive Love founder Jeremy Courtney, who has lived in the Middle East, including Turkey and Iraq, for more than a decade.

We also hear from Erin Wilson, Preemptive Love’s senior field editor in the Middle East, who describes the sense she is getting from her friends and neighbors in Iraq, many of whom have Kurdish friends and family in the line of fire in northern Syria.

A child in northeastern Syria. Photo by Matt Willingham/Preemptive Love

Breaking News to Know

  • Now that the US is withdrawing, Turkey has vowed to enter this part of northeastern Syria, taking any means necessary to drive back the Kurdish people—the same ones who were allies with the US in the fight against ISIS. 
  • Nearly three million Syrian refugees live in Turkey. Turkey has made no secret of its plans to forcibly relocate them just across the border in Kurdish-controlled territory. Even though the vast majority of these refugees are not from this part of Syria. This is, in effect, a second displacement for these families, putting them right in the middle of a war zone.

Quotes From This Episode

  • “At the worst-case scenario of all this, they won’t be resettling them into a peaceful environment, they’ll be resettling them into an environment that is now at conflict. And this is exactly the kind of conditions that groups like ISIS will exploit. These are the kind of conditions where violence spreads from one person to another, from one camp to another. This is what makes young men in particular very vulnerable and easy to recruit into one side or another. And the more troops we get, the more young men we get who feel like their only way to feed their family is to get paid by some militia group, the longer the war goes on,” Jeremy Courtney, Founder of Preemptive Love
  • Kurdish people have a very famous saying they have no friends but the mountains—that they’ve been betrayed by so many governments, so many people over the years that they’ve, learned that ultimately, they can’t trust anyone. And I mean, that’s what we’re here for. As Preemptive Love, we’re here to love people. And part of that is developing trust,” Erin Wilson, Senior Field Editor in the Middle East
  • “Together, we’ve formed a community and a coalition of friends across the board, who want to press into these complex matters and serve anyway, who want to provide food and shelter and housing and jobs for those who are caught up in the midst of all this. So while we give policy advice, and we seek to make sense of the complexities, we never stop giving concrete, frontlines, put-our-bodies-on-the-line kind of responses,” Jeremy Courtney

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Additional Resources

Withdrawal From Syria: What It Means for Allies, Refugees, and ISIS

President Trump announced he is pulling US troops from the border between northeastern Syria and Turkey. This decision could have major reverberations.

Full Transcript

Kayla: It’s been a difficult week across the Middle East … from protests in Iraq, to the recent news that the US administration is withdrawing its presence from northeastern Syria. On this breaking episode of the Love Anyway podcast, we hear from our Preemptive Love team about how this decision could have reverberations that last generations.

MUSIC

Kayla: I’m Kayla Craig, and this is a special episode of the Love Anyway podcast.

MUSIC

Kayla: We can’t follow the news right now without seeing headlines about US pullout from northeastern Syria. So, what’s happening? What are the implications? Why is this withdrawal so important…and so potentially devastating, not just for our friends in Syria, but for all of us? I spoke with Preemptive Love founder Jeremy Courtney, who has lived in the Middle East, including Turkey and Iraq, for more than a decade.

MUSIC

Jeremy: So for some years now, there has been some kind of presence of US troops, the mere presence of US soldiers is often thought to be enough to keep others at bay. Just having boots on the ground, whether they be advisors or observers or trainers or actual foot soldiers, has has been thought to be enough to kind of stave off the worst of war. What the White House revealed on Sunday night is that Turkey would be seeking to make an incursion, and the US would not be seeking to get in the way to complicate matters, basically allowing Turkey to do whatever Turkey has declared that it will do. Many of us are afraid then that without any advisors or fighters or troops in the area, Turkey will come in and it could result in all-out-war between the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Turkish military.

MUSIC

Kayla: A US presence in this part of Syria helped keep tensions between Kurdish militias in Syria and Turkish armed forces from escalating into full-scale war. Turkey and Syria have a complicated history spanning generations.

Jeremy: There’s a lot going on here. But I just think it’s important to situate today’s modern debates and tactical things that are going on into a decades-long story and struggle in the region.

Kayla: In the 1980s, the Kurdish population created a movement to separate from Turkey. Infighting and even violent attacks ensued, leading governments around the world to label the separatists as a terrorist movement. None more so than the Turkish authorities.

Jeremy: And as the Turkish Government sought to put down the terror attacks, and decimate the terror group, they drastically overreached and ended up committing what one might reasonably call genocide against the Kurds, that Kurdish separatist movement took refuge over the border in Syria, where there is a long-standing Kurdish population as well.

MUSIC

In fact, part of the separatists movements goal was to unify the broader swath of land that they call Kurdistan, the land of the Kurds that stretches across Turkey, across Syria, Iraq, Iran, and maybe a little bit beyond that.

Kayla: They were trying to unify all of this traditional Kurdish land under one new state in Syria.

Jeremy: And so the northeastern part of Syria became this kind of launchpad, where this group would continue to wage war against the Turkish state. The Turkish state now sees this land as basically a terror den where Kurdish terrorists plot the overthrow of the Turkish Government, even to this day. And so now that now that the Syrian civil war has played out. They are very afraid of what is emerging as an ever more powerful and ever more functioning kind of Kurdish state or region on their border.

Jeremy: We have friends all across this conflict. Jessica and I lived in Turkey for a number of years before moving to Iraq and starting Preemptive Love. So we have many Turkish friends, some of whom would entirely support the Turkish government’s moves right now, some of which would take exception to the broad brushing of Kurds as terrorists and would want to have a much more nuanced conversation about that. We have friends who are Kurds, they live in Turkey, we have friends who are Kurds who live in Syria, we have friends who are Kurds who live in Iraq, Iran.

Kayla: More than any nationalist aspirations they still possess, the Kurds and others like them are simply trying to … survive. Now that the US is withdrawing, Turkey has vowed to enter this part of Syria, taking any means necessary to drive back the Kurdish people … the same ones who were allies with the US in the fight against ISIS. 

Jeremy: The way the Trump administration is positioning this is as though we built a temporary Coalition for a singular purpose, which was to defeat ISIS, which the White House called the territorial Caliphate, meaning the actual land that they held. Now, having defeated the territorial Caliphate, all bets are off, the coalition is effectively dissolved. There is no grander vision or values or partnership here to be had. And everyone’s on their own. The administration is saying we’re out of the game, we accomplished what we said we were going to accomplish. Everyone is on their own. From a Kurdish standpoint, they were never fighting for something as simple and short term as defeating ISIS, they were always trying to also prop themselves up as a freestanding, functioning, flourishing society. And they are there still a long way off from that goal. at the best of times, the Kurds in northeastern Syria might have imagined that the Obama administration or the Trump administration cared about their own freedom and flourishing. But what this move from the White House on Sunday night reveals, and makes very clear is that we don’t care. And we are not interested in thinking long term about keeping ISIS defeated. It was enough to have quote, unquote, defeated them. And now we’re willing to just cede all this land, and all the realities back over to the fates to see what happens next.

Kayla: And the possibility of what happens next is what scares many of us the most. Because what happens next … as Jeremy mentioned earlier… could be war.

Jeremy: The Turkish Government military has made it very clear that they’ve got their battle plans drawn, they are locked and loaded, and they will be coming and they will be invading Syria.

MUSIC

Jeremy: The thing that a lot of us are concerned about is that ISIS will now find a vacuum, a hole to fill, as current security forces that have been holding them at bay, will be diverted. So what used to be a coalition fighting against ISIS is now turning into a lot of infighting. And the US is just standing on the sideline throwing up its hands saying not our problem. That’s the exact kind of vacuum and the exact kind of space in which ISIS grew up in the first place. And so for anyone to act surprised, one year from now, if ISIS has reconstituted itself, and is wreaking havoc on Syrian and Iraqi villages, or has upped their game and recruiting people to commit violence across the planet, no one should be surprised. We see this coming week. We know this map, we know this playbook. This is exactly what happened in the run up to 2014 when ISIS became a household name, and all the cards are set for it to happen. Again, all over.

MUSIC

Kayla: In addition, there are nearly 3 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey at the moment. Turkey has made no secret of its plans to forcibly relocate them just across the border in Kurdish-controlled territory. Even though the vast majority of these refugees are not from this part of Syria. This is, in effect, a second displacement for these families, putting them right in the middle of a war zone.

Jeremy 13:33: So now you take population, families, children, women, widows, disaffected young men, maybe boys who when they landed in Turkey, were just 11 years old. But now they’re 19. They’re a fighting age, and they’ve never known anything but displacement for their entire adolescent and young adult years. Now, you’re talking about the Turkish Government forcibly uprooting them, and forcibly resettling them back into a land where. They feel vulnerable. At the worst case scenario of all this, they won’t be resettling them into a peaceful environment, they’ll be resettling them into an environment that is now at conflict. And this is exactly the kind of conditions that groups like ISIS will exploit. This is the kind of conditions where violence spreads from one person to another from one camp to another. This is what makes young men in particular, very vulnerable and easy to recruit into one side or another. And the more troops we get, the more young men we get, who feel like their only way to feed their family is to get paid by somebody militia group or some military group or another, the longer the war goes on.

MUSIC

Jeremy: We kind of understand at least in theory, the different storylines that everyone is telling. And together, we’ve formed a community and a coalition of friends across the board, who want to press into these complex matters and serve anyway, who wants to provide food and shelter and housing and jobs for those who are caught up in the midst of all this and, and so while we give policy advice, and we seek to make sense of the complexities, we never stop giving concrete, front lines, put our bodies on the line kind of responses.

Jeremy: This is the exact kind of condition that basically ISIS has been waiting for. And we haven’t had enough time, frankly, to change the ideas that lead to war, we haven’t had enough time, or enough resources financially to show them the kind of love and depth of relationship that that might be required to, to get us out of this cycle that we find ourselves in. And so it feels like we’re just kind of inexorably tumbling down the hole again, and I think a lot of us just wish we had more time and more resources to have staved this off a little bit longer.

Kayla: As I talked with Jeremy, one thing became very clear … we’re not giving up.

Jeremy: I think there’s plenty that we can do in this moment. However bad these things look on the news. Things can always be worse if we don’t play our part. When we press into these hard places, and keep giving services to people in need, we stop violence from spreading even further, we stop the death toll from going even higher. So we can always do more. But we could always do less as well. And it’s the doing less that really concerns me. And I think that if you’re listening right now, and you like us want to continue to work to end war, maybe not just on a global scale, but you want to work to end this war, you want to work to stave off the next battle. Maybe before it starts one of the things that we have to do is we have to show up in these vacuum spaces and try and prevent violence from spreading. And so we do that with food and shelter and medical services and try to get jobs in place so that young men can’t be recruited into this violence so easily because they’ve got better options available.

Kayla: I also spoke to Erin Wilson, our senior field editor in the Middle East.

Erin: I think the best way to describe it is this part of the world is standing and holding their breath in fear that we are about to witness massacre to be perfectly frank. 

MUSIC

Erin: Kurdish people have a very famous saying they have no friends, but the mountains, that they’ve been betrayed by so many governments, so many people over the years that they’ve learned that ultimately, they can’t trust anyone. And I mean, that’s what we’re here for. As preemptive love, we’re here to love people. And part of that is developing trust. And so to see people we love betrayed so swiftly, it’s, it’s very painful. It’s also painful because I mean, our friends, our colleagues, our students, and our tech hubs, the makers, the women who crochet washcloths, the small business owners that live in refugee camps here who we’ve helped start small businesses, their families come from these places. And this is, this is not about other people in other places. This is about people we love, and, and the loss that they’re experiencing now with the trail, and then the loss, we’re afraid will come with violence.

Kayla: I asked Erin to describe the sense she is getting from her friends and neighbors in Iraq, many of whom have Kurdish friends and family in the line of fire in northern Syria.

Erin: There’s a lot of hopelessness right now. To be honest. Broken trust is a pretty devastating thing. When it was with ISIS. It was a known enemy that we knew was coming to harm. And we were mentally prepared for that. I think we understand very well. What happened here in Iraq over the weekend, what will continue to happen over time and what is happening now in Syria? This is not an unknown enemy. These are our friends, our allies, our brothers. And it just it just feels…Yeah, it just feels hard. 

MUSIC

Kayla: As we shared in our last episode, Iraq is currently in the middle of political protests and the most intense period of unrest since the rise of ISIS in 2014. And now, the United States’ withdrawal has paved the way for ISIS to reemerge on the battlefield. But, Preemptive Love isn’t going anywhere. And we need your help as we continue to stay on the frontlines.

Erin: Yes, I have been hearing a lot of hopelessness, but I am not without hope. And when things are hard, I continue to be convinced that this is when we need to be pressing in. This is not when we should turn our backs or turn away. And so I mean, there’s like just a lot of hard stuff going on right now. And I know people are probably feeling burnout, just trying to keep track of what’s happening in their own community. But it’s really important that we make space for what’s happening in other people’s communities, too.

MUSIC

Kayla: One of the best ways that you can make space for others is by giving monthly to Preemptive Love. Your gift goes directly to those affected by violence and helps us work to prevent war before it even starts, providing jobs, small business loans, and other things families need to build a new future. When you give, you help refugees rise from the devastation of war. Visit preemptivelove.org/podcast, where you can give and join us in choosing to love anyway.

Kayla: Thanks for listening. Remember to subscribe so you don’t miss an episode.

Until next time, I’m Kayla Craig. And this is the Love Anyway podcast.


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Preemptive Love is on the ground in Northeastern Syria. This is the biggest crisis we’ve seen at one time...and it’s getting worse. In this breaking episode, hear from our colleagues in the Middle East, who share what they’re seeing unfold.

Preemptive Love is on the ground in Northeastern Syria. This is the biggest crisis we’ve seen at one time…and it’s getting worse. In this breaking episode, hear from our colleagues in the Middle East, who share what they’re seeing unfold.