Lindsey Graham Got Prank Called and Inadvertently Admitted Some Hard Truths About the Turkish-Kurdish Situation

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., pauses while speaking to members of the media outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, after his meeting with President Donald Trump, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Lindsey Graham by Gage Skidmore, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/Original

You wouldn’t think a Senator would fall for a prank phone call and completely undercut his public pronouncements in the process, but it’s 2019 and all that.


We are  in the midst of an extremely tense situation in Northern Syria, where the United States pulled about 50 advisors out of the area in the face of a Turkish incursion across the border. Nuance on the topic has become off limits for most on the right. My sympathies generally lie with the Kurds, even the YPG, more so than Turkey, but this is not nearly as easy as just “supporting our allies,” as we’ll discuss in a moment.

First, though, let’s lay out what happened with Graham. The same Russian pranksters who convinced Rep. Adam Schiff they had naked pictures of Donald Trump managed to pull one over on the South Carolina Senator. This comes courtesy of Fusion mouthpiece Natasha Bertrand.

First, let’s notice something. It’s likely that the only reason Bertrand has this “scoop,” which could only be passed along by Russian sources, is because Fusion GPS has been feeding her Russian misinformation for years. This was likely done to Graham to embarrass him and the Russians have plenty of reasons to want to do that. Even though that’s not the meat of this story, it is interesting to note just how much of a direct line the Russians have to Fusion GPS and their chosen reporters (Bertrand and Dilanian being the most prominent).


Now, back to the details. Graham has been raging on Twitter and publicly the past few days about Trump pulling out of Northern Syria. He’s proclaimed the evils of it and the coming re-rise of ISIS. He’s said we are leaving the Kurds to die. Yet, on this call, he took a decidedly different tone.

Namely, he admitted that it’s complicated. Very, very complicated.

But Graham also expressed sympathy for Turkey’s “Kurdish problem” and described the Kurds as a “threat.” Those private comments appear to contradict his public statements this week, in which he criticized Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria because it’s “wrong to abandon the Kurds, who have been strong allies against” the Islamic State.

“Your YPG Kurdish problem is a big problem,” Graham told the pranksters. He was referring to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, a group that began fighting ISIS as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces in 2015—with support from the U.S.—but is considered a terrorist group by Turkey because of its push to establish an autonomous state for the Kurds on the Turkish-Syrian border.

“I told President Trump that Obama made a huge mistake in relying on the YPG Kurds,” Graham continued. “Everything I worried about has come true, and now we have to make sure Turkey is protected from this threat in Syria. I’m sympathetic to the YPG problem, and so is the president, quite frankly.”


That’s a direct contradiction of Graham’s public condemnations, and one that admits some hard realities on the ground.

Let me say this first, though, I’ve refrained from writing about the situation in Syria to this point for a very specific reason. There’s way, way too much emotionalism being bandied about right now to have an intelligent conversation with most people on the right. If you even begin to inject that the Kurds are not a monolithic group, that they actually include different factions, and that the regional conflicts that predate the Syrian civil war make this a very tenuous situation, you get accused of endorsing “genocide” and “slaughter.”

In reality, there is no evidence of those things happening. Turkey agreed to a safe zone last year encompassing parts of the Syrian border. At this point, that’s what they’ve begun to form by pushing across. Could they cross a red line and start wiping out the Kurdish groups in Northern Syria? I certainly wouldn’t put it past Erdogan. He’s a terrible person. But not taking all factors into account helps no one.

Take this from Meghan McCain for example.


While Rand Paul’s tweet is stupidly simplistic, McCain’s response is know-nothing gobbledygook.

What does McCain know about the YPG or PKK? Does she know they are designated terrorist entities that have been at war with Turkey for decades? Does she know they are allies in a separatist movement within Turkey and have carried out suicide attacks? Does she realize that engaging a NATO ally in order to protect them would set off a massive international crisis and possibly destroy the most important alliance in history? Does she care that we have 5,000 troops inside Turkey and over 60 nuclear warheads at risk? Does McCain think we should leave 50 troops as human shields in the face of a Turkish operation that was moving forward regardless? Turkey doesn’t even have to mean to kill Americans for Americans to die in that situation. It’d have been incredibly dangerous for those soldiers.

McCain hasn’t spent one second in her several rants on the issue actually articulating the complexities and pitfalls of the situation in order to truly form a salient argument. Instead she’s spent her timing spouting righteous platitudes that ignore the realities we are dealing with.

In Graham’s prank phone call, we actually see him admit the issues at hand. The YPG are a real problem and Turkey does have legitimate reasons to push back on them. The group’s goal is to form a Marxist state made up of Turkish and Syrian land. As you can imagine, that raises the temperature in the area among all involved. Further, it must be said that the Kurds in Iraq are not the same as those in Northern Syria. The former are our traditional allies, the latter are not. Iraqi Kurds see the YPG as extremists (and, objectively, they are).


The United States, due to the failures of the past administration, has been put in an impossible situation. Graham appears to know this but hasn’t had the guts to say it publicly. He simply got caught with this prank call.

With Turkey saying they were coming across the border, there were no good options here. The fact that we are dealing with the YPG makes the matter extremely difficult navigate. We were placed in the middle of two historically warring groups. One is a NATO ally and is vitally strategic for our national security. The other did help us defeat ISIS in Northern Syria. This all paints a dangerous shade of gray and the President made the decision to not continue to play chicken with Turkey. Even if you think it’s the wrong move, the certainty with which some have been shouting crosses into the ridiculous.

With all that said, what Turkey doesn’t have is a legitimate reason to wipe out the Kurds. Setting up a border zone is one thing, specifically targeting civilians is another. If that happens, the President will be forced to act and he has said he will. If he doesn’t, he will bear the consequences of that, as he should. The best course of action here is to negotiate some kind of settlement. That will mean Turkish compliance but it will also mean a stop to the actions of the YPG within Turkey.

What doesn’t help anyone in this discussion is generalized hysteria without any admission of just how incredibly volatile and complicated this situation is.


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