Erdogan's Pandora's Box: U.S. and Turkey on 'Collision
Course' (Publico, Portugal)
to the view of Turkish President RecepTayyipErdogan, Obama refuses to
turn the military campaign against IS into an operation to speed the fall of
the Damascus regime. … For Erdogan and his prime
minister - AhmetDavutoglu,
Islamic State is a 'lesser devil' when compared with Assad. Analyst Soli Ozel explains: 'Davutoglu is
saying in effect that IS is the product of rage - and
if the source of that rage goes, namely the Syrian regime, then such groups
will also go.'"
A tug of war is underway between the United States and
Turkey, and as that unfolds, a tragic battle is in progress in Kobani, a Kurdish town near the Turkish border which is
under attack by Islamic State (IS) jihadists. The events of the next few days
have the potential to drastically alter the political and military landscape.
The "great coalition" against IS is an
indispensable condition for American intervention. Yet it has an innate
weakness: Americans, Turks or Saudis don't share either the same perceptions or
the same objectives. At root of the wide divergence between Washington and
Ankara are opposing versions and goals on Syria, partly motivated by the
by Aydin Mustafa, president of the International
Relations Council in Istanbul: "Turkey’s priorities in the region include toppling
[Syrian President] Assad, preventing Kurdish groups from taking de facto
control of northern Syria, convincing the Iraqi government to reach a
compromise with Sunni groups, containing Iranian influence in Iraq, and ultimately
deterring IS from directly threatening Turkey’s interests. Destroying IS does
not appear on that list."
The U.S. is focused on Iraq - and its strategy in Syria is
at the very least - ambiguous. Contrary to the view of Turkish President RecepTayyipErdogan,
Obama refuses to turn the military campaign against IS into an operation to
speed the fall of the Damascus regime.
For Erdogan and his prime minister
- AhmetDavutoglu, Islamic
State is a "lesser devil" when compared with Assad. Analyst
Soli Ozel explains: "Davutoglu
is saying in effect that IS is the product of rage -
and if the source of that rage goes, namely the Syrian regime, then such groups
will also go."
Ankara maintained excellent relations with Assad until the
revolution of 2011, and then quickly began supporting the armed opposition –
but without concerning about the rapid expansion of the jihadists. The burden
of war falls largely on Turkey, which is host to 1.5 million Syrian civil war refugees.
Ankara argues that regime change in Damascus is a national security imperative.
Turkish generals share this view. The Middle East has changed profoundly since
2011, the year of the "[Arab] springs." However, Erdogan
and Davutoglu remain determined to maintain their
positions - and today, their strategy is under fire in Turkey itself.
Ankara has failed in its attempt to convince Americans to
turn Assad’s regime into their first target in Syria, just as it failed to
convince them to create a no-fly zone and a humanitarian buffer zone in
northern Syria. The Kurds believe such measures aim to impose Turkish supremacy
in northern Syria.
The United States not only refuses to directly engage in the
Syrian conflict, it also rejects the idea of fighting two enemies at the same
time. If it has fragile allies in Baghdad, it has no partners in Syria. As for
the latter, its goal is more modest: strike IS to stem its offensive in Iraq.
The Americans don't believe in the armed Syrian opposition,
which is made up of 1,500 local groups led by "warlords," particularly
when the most powerful are the IS and the al-Nusra
Front, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda. The Free Syrian Army, which once had
Western backing and Turkey is trying desperately to revive, is a marginal
force. Washington favors a "political solution" - even knowing, given
the degree of polarization in Syria, that a compromise is far on the horizon.
Ankara thinks the opposite, and insists that Americans must
arm all forces opposed both to Assad and IS, including al-Nusra.
Despite generic promises, Obama is in no hurry to deploy more weapons in Syria.
Erdogan’s Syria policy is partly
determined by the Kurdish issue. The Kurds of Syria have tried to avoid the war
between Assad and the rebels, giving priority to the consolidation of its own territory.
In November 2013, three Kurdish "cantons," among them Kobani, declared their autonomy from Damascus, although
without burning all their bridges.
The main Kurdish party, the Democratic
Union Party (PYD) led by Salih
Muslim, and its armed wing, the People's Protection
Units (YPG), have historic relations with Kurdistan
Workers' Party (PKK). When in September, IS
launched an attack on the Kobani region, Salih Muslim met with officials from Turkey's secret
services to appeal for free passage to the besieged city in order to deploy
reinforcements and anti-tank weapons. The Turks set out their demands: PYD should break off all relations with Damascus, dissolve
its autonomous regions and distance itself from PKK.
Ankara would also wanted Syrian Kurds to fall under
the authority of the Free Syrian Army.
Muslim clarified in an interview that he was tortured in
Syrian prisons, but that his priority is to preserve Kurdish territory and not
to overthrow Assad. Given his reply, the Turks blocked passage to Kobani. Before being reversed a few days ago, the decision had
an adverse effect on Ankara: the Americans, who need "partners" in
Syria, began collaborating with PYD.
The stakes are very high. In order to link it with the Iraq
border and reinforce the oil supply and traffic routes that the Americans want
to neutralize, IS is looking to seize nearly 65 miles
of the border with Turkey under the control of the Kurds. More importantly: it
would be a huge propaganda victory. If the city falls, IS will demonstrate the
failure of American intervention without troops on the ground, jeopardize the
future of the coalition and consolidate its position as world leader of jihadism.
"The Turkish government obviously sees the potential
formation of a new Kurdish entity on its southern borders as a greater threat
than IS. Ankara doesn't want to see a repeat of the scenario of northern Iraq,"
Suat Kinikoglu, director of the Center for
Strategic Communication, an Ankara think tank. "From a purely Turkish
perspective, this is somewhat understandable. However, Turkey simply cannot
afford for Kobani to fall."
Posted By Worldmeets.US
"Turkey would benefit much more from supporting the
Syrian Kurds now and becoming influential in the future shaping of that Kurdish
entity. Whether or not Kobani falls
no longer matters, because the Kobani resistance has
already captured the Kurdish imagination. It is an ideal myth that will
be used for nation-building by the Kurds."
And it has not only seized the imagination of Syrian Kurds, but
the Turkish Kurds as well. Erdogan may have opened