Kenneth R. Timmerman: Leaked Memo From Top US Diplomat in Syria – What Could the US Have Done?

Kenneth R. Timmerman

As so often, the New York Times headline writers have done their best to obscure the underlying story.

William Roebuck, the senior U.S. diplomat on the ground in northeast Syria since 2018, has written a well thought-out, honest, and forward-looking appraisal of the damage done to U.S. interests and to regional security by Turkey in a confidential memo to his bosses at the State Department, which of course was immediately leaked to the Times.

This is no “gotcha” memo; nor does it blast the President for betraying the Kurds, as the media and Congressional narrative would have you believe. Instead, he looks at whether we actually could have deterred the Turks from invading northern Syria. “It’s a tough call,” he writes, “and the answer is probably not, given our small footprint, Turkey’s NATO get-out-of-jail-free card,” and Turkey’s determination to quash the Kurds.

Roebuck makes many of the same points I have made in several columns over the past six weeks (here, here, and here):

  • Turkey has totally misrepresenting the “terror” threat from Northern Syria (Rojava), when in fact there has not been a single terror attack inside Turkey launched from areas under control of the Syrian Kurds, or YPG.
  • The United States never promised the Kurds we would help them to establish a sovereign state.
  • YPG military leaders continue to cooperate with the United States and value their relationship to the United States.
  • The Kurds had made significant progress at establishing local governing councils that, while not perfect, show an aspiration toward fair and representative government that should be nurtured.
  • S. “ally” Turkey is more allied with ISIS than with NATO. Erdogan should be named and shamed for this campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Kurds and Assyrian Christians of Northern Syria.

My only beef with Roebuck— and I fully understand his position as the guy on the ground— is that he exaggerates our ability to have deterred the Turks. He argues that if we had positioned a handful of U.S. troops as a buffer between Turkey and the Kurds, Erdogan would have backed off, not wanting to kill U.S. soldiers. But Erdogan has told us repeatedly that is exactly what he intends to do. He said as much the first time he crossed the border in January 2018 when he warned: “Don’t get in between us and terrorist organizations, or we will not be responsible for the unwanted consequences.” In other words, get out of the way, or you die.

We believed him then. And my guess is, the military knew enough to believe him now.

Far from blasting President Trump for Turkey’s thuggish, genocidal behavior, Roebuck argues that we use muscular diplomacy to make Turkey “pay the price” for all bad things that go down in this part of the region from now on.

That’s pretty sound advice. Let’s see how the President plays it when he meets with Erdogan at the White House on November 13.

Kenneth R. Timmerman

NY Times best-selling author Kenneth R. Timmerman is a nationally recognized investigative reporter and war correspondent who was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize in 2006 for the work he has done to expose Iran’s nuclear weapons program. From 2010-2016, he lectured on Iran at the Pentagon’s Joint Counter-Intelligence Training Academy, JCITA. Since 1995, he has run the Foundation for Democracy in Iran ( and regularly meets with Iranian dissidents overseas. His books and columns can be found at

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