Monday 29 January 2018

Erdogan's choice

Erdogan has made his choice
Saker drawing from community

26 November, 2014

by Ghassan Kadi for The Saker Blog

It seems that Erdogan has already made up his mind, but the speculations about what deals have been and haven’t been done seem muddied, to put it mildly.

In the Levant, the Kurds always lose in the end, and regardless of what alliances they make and with whom, they always end up getting stabbed in the back; or at least abandoned. But when they team up with parties like the USA, and even Israel, what else can they expect?

However, the Kurd’s obsession of having their statehood by any means, and the resistance they face and the unpreparedness of certain parties to work together to ensure that there will be no foreign intervention, they all have their adverse consequences. What we see happening in Syria’s north today is the direct outcome of this.

America had been looking for half an excuse to invade Syria for a very long time, and knowing that it wasn’t able to have a full-on presence that would allow it to carpet bomb the whole nation, it used the Kurdish excuse and the false pretext of creating a “security zone” in order to justify its presence on Syrian soil; against Syria’s wish.

But to do this, America needed allies on the ground, and instead of working together with its natural partner and NATO member Turkey (which happens to be a regional superpower) on common denominators, America’s inability to negotiate and give and take, even with its most ardent allies, repelled Turkey and America had to resort to an alliance with the YPG Kurds. What comes next is more sinister.

It is not clear what was Russia’s initial position on establishing any form of Kurdish autonomy in Syria. As a matter of fact, Syria’s FM Walid Mouallem hinted back in September 2017 that the Syrian Government was prepared to look into a limited Kurdish cultural autonomy (وزير-الخارجية-السوري-لـ-rt-الإدارة-الذاتية-سوريا-وهذا-أمر-قابل-للتفاوض-والحوار/), but this did not go very far. And long before Mouallem’s remark, President Assad himself hinted back in 2012 that the efforts of the people of Ain Al Arab (Kobani in Kurdish) will not be forgotten. But of course, this does not mean he was hinting at some form of autonomy. Was the Syrian Government pressured to not explore every possible avenue for reconciliation with its Kurdish population? And if so, by whom and why? Surely not by Russia because, Russia had always been sympathetic and understanding of Kurdish fears and aspirations. Who else could have stood in the way of reaching some form of pre-emptive reconciliation between the Syrian Government and Syrian Kurds before events reached the dangerous climax they are at today? Definitely not Iran or Turkey.

Arguably, it can be said that the way the YPG went to bed with America has led to its abandonment by the Syrian Government and all other potential allies outside the American circle of influence, and this cannot be more obvious given the recent history of the YPG. In all honesty however, we must in hindsight ask whether it was possible to avoid this impasse or at least mitigate it. We don’t know. Either way, it is probably already too late to “reconcile” and President Assad himself has recently referred to those Kurds who are under America’s beck-and-call as “traitors”.

Ironically, an ardent opposition of having any form of Kurdish autonomy in Syria was, and continues to be, Turkey’s Erdogan. He is concerned about the snow-ball effect and the possibility of similar Turkish-Kurdish aspirations. And Turkey is a multi-ethnic nation with vulnerabilities that cannot be ignored in this crazy era of human history.

Erdogan had told his American “allies” time and time again that they cannot be strategic allies of Turkey if they want to endorse any form of a formal Kurdish entity; even one that is only nominally cultural. Yet, Obama’s USA did not listen any more than Trump’s. They dug in their heels and continued to intimidate in their presence in Syria not only Syria, but also Russia and most ironically, their ally Turkey.

Syria wants America out of Syria.

Russia wants America out of Syria.

Iran wants America out of Syria.

Turkey doesn’t really care if America is in or out of Syria, but Turkey definitely wants the YPG and any other Kurdish military forces disabled in order to put a stop to any possible Kurdish entity from materializing.

But now that the wolf (aka America) is in, who is going to kick it out before it huffs and puffs and blows the whole region in?

The Syrian Army cannot engage directly against American troops, let alone militia supported by America, without risking a major direct military escalation with America itself. As a matter of fact, America perhaps wishes for this to happen as this will justify a bigger presence.

But hang on, let’s not forget that Russian troops are on the ground in Syria, and the Russians and Americans have thus far succeeded in avoiding direct confrontation for decades. Such indirect interaction is something that both super powers are familiar with, and they know how to do it. But this of course means that Russia cannot directly be engaged in ousting American troops from Syria. On the flip-side, America cannot engage with Russia either in an attempt to, say, oust President Assad.

How about Iran then? Well, Iran is already under American (and Israeli) threats, even without engaging directly against American troops. Iran may choose to engage against America or be drawn into such an engagement, but to do this willingly in order to protect Syrians Kurds is an unlikely scenario.

In reality therefore, only Turkish troops can do the job without creating much international havoc of far-reaching devastation.

Does this mean that there is a tacit approval on behalf of the Syrian Government for the Turkish so-called “Olive Branch” operation? Not at all, and in fact, most unlikely. Is there then perhaps an agreement between Turkey on one hand with Russia and Iran on the other hand on this? Also highly unlikely. However, Erdogan knows well that only he can engage in fighting American cohorts in Syria, and he is doing it with or without any need for support, not even tacit support, from either Russia, Iran or Syria.

Now let’s not forget that Turkey is a NATO member and that it houses the Incirlik airbase. However, unlike back in 1955 when Turkey was desperate to join NATO in fear of the “Communist peril”, America and NATO now need Turkey much more than Turkey needs NATO. To Erdogan, if he had to choose between the potential risks of losing Turkey’s NATO membership as against having a Kurdish state south of his border, he would choose the former.

But to Erdogan, his stand against America is not only religiously and nationalistically based, it is also personal. Apart from his doctrinal fundamentalist and nationalist attributes, he regards America as the nation that hosts and protects his political enemy and rival Gulen; who ironically still enjoys a huge level of support within Turkey, despite all the clampdowns on his supporters after the July 2016 coup attempt.

Erdogan and Trump are now playing chicken with each other, each looking at his opponent to see who is going to back off first. Trump has no idea that Erdogan will not waver and that he will simply not allow a Kurdish state south of his border, even though it is not meant to be on Turkish territory. The truth of the matter is that America has never ever considered its allies as friends who may have common objectives with America, but also happen to have their own interests. America is used to dictating its terms and conditions on its allies without a second thought.

But Trump, like his predecessor before him, does not seem to realize that they have pushed Erdogan to the limit and that he is now taking America to task.

So apart from whether or not there are undisclosed deals between Syria, Turkey, Iran and Russia, the fact that they all agree that none of them wants any form of Kurdish autonomy, lifts Erdogan up to the level of the one and only “hero” who can deal with it as he is the only one who doesn’t give a damn about what happens between him and America. He even seems to be reveling in the attention he is receiving at home by challenging America, as this is bolstering his popularity and further enabling him to target Gulen and America who is held responsible for his political survival by giving him asylum.

But in doing all of this, and to follow up on the previous article (, Erdogan has clearly made his choice as to which side on the Syrian ground he is going to support.

Erdogan seems to be distancing himself from Al-Nusra Front, or is he? Well, on the surface at least, he is pushing the card of the allegedly least radical of all militarized Syrian opposition groups; the so-called “Free Syria Army” (FSA). The original FSA members back in 2011 were mainly defectors of the Syrian Army. Back then, they were the only military force on the ground before all the Jihadis and mercenaries came in. No one can really tell with certainty what percentage of those fighters today are of Syrian Army origin, but what is pertinent here is that Erdogan is not going into Afrin together with Al-Nusra Front fighters, but rather with FSA fighters.

To a Syrian patriot, there is no real difference between the FSA and Al-Nusra Front. However, on the books as it were, the FSA is not a fundamentalist Jihadist organization. And as Astana/Geneva/Sochi talks will resume at some stage, lifting the profile of the FSA at one minute to midnight might give the elusive so-called “moderate Syrian opposition” a last minute mouth-to-mouth resuscitation; courtesy of Erdogan. After all, if push comes to shove, the Al-Nusra fighters that Erdogan wishes to protect can always shave their beards and wear FSA uniforms.

It’s a “clever”, or rather conniving, move by Erdogan, because by supporting and resurrecting the FSA, not only is he distancing himself from Al-Nusra Front, but he is bringing back the “moderate Syrian opposition” to the forefront and potentially giving it a place in the final negotiation process, and this fact, may also be used by him as an un-severed link with his American “allies”, because if he wanted to watch his back just in case he needed America in the near future, he can always argue that he did not send his troops into Syria to support President Assad, but rather to support the opposition.

Whichever way events move on from here, Russian diplomacy will be given the ultimate challenge. The time for muscle power in the skies for Russian bombers is over, at least for a while.

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