U.S. President Trump did not invite, but allowed, the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and its Syrian proxy militia forces—re-branded by Ankara as the “Syrian National Army” (SNA)—to enter Syria. U.S. forces withdrew from northern Syria to avoid clashing with its NATO ally, Turkey. The military operation’s declared scope is a 450-kilometer-wide and 30-kilometer-deep area from Kobane to the Iraqi border, as President Erdoğan did not quite shy away from repeating even after he received Vice President Pence’s visit.
Yet, as things stand at the moment, military activity remains limited to the roughly 120 kilometer area between Akçakale/Tel Abyad/Gire Spi to Ceylanpınar/Ras El-Ayn/Serekani. Almost a perfect rectangle, the area extends south towards the M-4 highway line that lies 30 kilometers to the south, parallel to the border. Again, for the time being, the initial operation is mostly being driven forward by the SNA. At present, even control of Serekani is still contested and SNA’s reach to the M-4 highway appears to be temporary.
As the U.S. pulled out, Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA), supported by Russia, moved into Manbij and Kobane to the west and to the Qamishli axis to the east of the said rectangular field of ongoing operations. Hence, there is no reason why the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) should heed the U.S.-Turkish Joint Statement, and there is no reason why the congressional sanctions effort should stop—it didn’t.
Therefore, considering the situation on the ground and the international relations context, VP Pence’s Ankara visit looks as if the point was to merely announce “a deal,” any deal, rather than actually implementing one. Who knows whether this is due to the internal troubles facing Trump and his possible effort to stop the US Congress from rebelling against him or not. Yet, the text of this “deal” itself is a definitive victory for Erdoğan on both home and foreign policy grounds.
However, that sense of victory may be short-lived, as the deal itself only foresees a window of 120 hours, or five days— the deadline of which, incidentally or not-so-incidentally, exactly coincides with Erdoğan’s visit to Sochi tomorrow (Oct. 22). Another coincidence is the fact that while VP Pence’s delegation was being received by President Erdoğan, in one of the adjacent rooms, İbrahim Kalın, the de facto national security adviser to the president, was holding talks with the Russian special envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev.
The same Lavrentiev, as well as Foreign Minister Lavrov, VP Ushakov and other such Russian dignitaries kept pushing about how Russia was instrumental in bringing about peace between the SDF and Damascus. What actually happened was that the Russians left the SDF to face the TAF incursion on their own as the US withdrew, and then forced the SDF to accept not only the return of the Syrian “state” but also the Arab nationalist BAAS “regime” back into the areas under their control.
So, anything left beyond the current 120 kilometer by 30 kilometer area of operations is to be discussed between Moscow and Ankara, and eventually, if the Russians can pull it through, between Damascus and Ankara. The Russians are also dangling the promise of drafting a new constitution in front of the SDF as a possible event on the horizon. The first meeting of the Constitutional Committee, which is pretty much the brainchild of the Russian diplomatic team, is to be held on October 29-30 in Geneva, together with a quartet summit on its margins between the Russian, French, German and Turkish heads of states.
But still, Erdoğan made it clear time and again that Turkey will not be speaking to Damascus, as the Assad government is considered to be illegitimate, nor to the SDF/YPG, as they are considered to be terrorists. Furthermore, the Russians are quite adamant about limiting the TAF’s presence to a five-kilometer strip along the entirety of the border, not the current 120-kilometer-wide zone, and insist on Syrian national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
At the end of the day, we are more or less back where the U.S. and Turkey originally started negotiating the terms of a “safe zone.” Whereas Ankara understood “safe zone” to mean a zone under full and exclusive control of the TAF, as was the case in Afrin and the Bab pockets, the US saw it as a “buffer zone,” with an ambiguous “security mechanism” to go along with that. Still today, both sides draw different conclusions from their “joint” (!) statement as reflected in the discrepancy of the contents of the back-to-back press conferences by VP Pence and Minister Çavuşoğlu in Ankara following their talk.
The difference now on the ground, though, is that the U.S. has left the northern strip of Syria, effectively jeopardising their relationship with the SDF. The SDF had been forced to ally with Assad and Russia in order to survive. In the international arena, Turkey is being widely being perceived as slaughtering the Kurds, not combatting terrorism. Assad’s SAA got back to the Turkish border without firing a single bullet—and Putin smiles while wringing his hands with apparent glee.
On the home front, for Erdoğan, both the unilateral decision enter Syria militarily for the third time and the farcical diplomatic commotion by the US are godsent gifts. Trustee governors have been appointed to the predominantly-Kurdish towns of Hakkâri, Yüksekova and Nusaybin in southeast Turkey. The CHP-run Istanbul metropolitan municipality has been left out of the tender process for the two historical train station buildings of Haydarpaşa and Sirkeci in the city center. An international conference by the non-profit Hrant Dink Foundation has been canceled by a simple last-minute administrative order. The opposition is in more disarray than ever.
Both the U.S. and the EU share the burden of having no coherent policies towards Turkey. Neither the US nor the EU have much leverage left with Turkey or the SDF, either. Not only the Syrians and the Syrian Kurds are alone, but Turkey’s democrats as well. The age-old concepts of national interest and national security became travesties of repression, a party-state and one-man rule. What we have at hand is merely a Turkey-U.S. “joint statement” with a mere five-day shelf life—not an agreement. Erdoğan still sets the tone and the tempo, and we will have to watch this game with riveted attention until its bitter end.
Only, this here ain’t no game. As famined Romans besieged by Alaric’s army of Goths exclaimed in rage in 410: “Let human flesh be exposed for sale, and the price settled”—once and for all, if I may humbly add.
The imam too is apologetically in a hurry. I try to appear comforting in reiterating over and over again that everything is in order according to Islam. I even attempt to reassure him by patting his shoulder but my hand remains hanging in the air as the wide-eyed imam is aghast of this potential physical contact.
At the end of the day, Ankara’s undisclosed three-way bet appears to the naked eye as resting first on a hybrid mitigation approach as opposed to the full throttle suppression. Second, that the storm will pass quicker than others expect. Third, that Turkey will find itself on the winning end once the skies clear.
The Moscow Protocol puts the task on Ankara’s shoulders of stopping the armed militia like the HTS and the Turkey backed SNA from endangering traffic on that road to be jointly controlled. By the same token, while effectively offering the use of the road on a plate to Damascus, it allocates the burden of preventing the SAA to take it over and make a northbound push to Russia.
Not quite. One can safely assume that Moscow dictates the, call it “new order” or the “new status quo” in Idlib. And at that, effectively getting in between the Turkish Armed Forces and the Syrian Arab Army. No more, no less and temporarily. Compared to a potential full-blown Turco-Syrian war, encouraged first and foremost by the U.S., it is no small feat either.
The assumption of those who predicted a sudden death to Erdoğan-Putin bromance is proven to be only wishful thinking. The two leaders, as shared with the public by Kremlin’s spokesperson Peskov are slated to meet in Moscow either on the 5th or the 6th of March. How many more Syrian Air Force Soviet made attack jets will be downed by then is anybody’s guess. The tally stands at three at present time.
Title is from a song by Sheffield band Pulp’s well known 1995 debut album: “Mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits / Raised on a diet of broken biscuits, oh…” With a sleight of hand replace “biscuits” with “promises” and there you have it, a concise executive summary of Erdoğan’s Syria and Libya policies.
The art of diplomacy, among other things, is to create time and space for a rationale within the possible outcomes. That would be in this case, for the recently heavily fortified TAF observation posts establish a new frontier line leaving the control of the M4 and the M5 highways together with all the towns along them to Damascus and keep a much narrower pocket including the Idleb town to host the almost a million Syrian IDPs and hence allowing them conditions not push for the Turkish border.
Bana, on her term, travelled numerous times from Istanbul to Misrata than to Genoa and so forth. Recently though, the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle sailed through the disputed eight parcel declared by Greek Cyprus and, “to add insult to injury”, also topped its flag displaying mission by monitoring the same Bana being escorted by Turkish navy fregates to Libya. Before AFP had time to break the news, President Macron had already denounced Turkey as breaching the UN imposed arms embargo to Libya.
I have no single bit of sympathy at all for this ridiculous Trumpian unilateral MEPP that makes a mockery of diplomacy and the Palestinian land. But I do worry about the fact that Turkey carries no weight to dictate its will upon all the rest of the world. For that matter, no other power, be it regional or global, not even the U.S. enjoys that sort of latitude. There is no need for Ankara to constantly pick unnecessary fights while in the meantime there is no shortage of conflicts that Turkey’s national security all around it.
Today, a shaky hodge-podge opposition coalition of sorts seems to have emerged following the metropolitan municipality victories in 2019, first and foremost winning the prized duchy of Istanbul among them. Now, the secularist nationalists and muslim democrats with the Kurds and leftists suspiciously eyeing but soldiering on with them have a quite clear shot at the presidency in 2023 the latest -in ceteris paribus conditions.
The outcome of the Berlin Conference on Libya is anybody’s guess and whether it will make any difference is anybody’s guess as well. The safest bet is to claim that we are just starting a long de-escalation period with its inevitable ups and downs unless General Hafter manages to upend it militarily.
President Erdoğan’s combative foreign policy appears to let off steam and slow down on both Syrian and Libyan fronts. It is too early to tell whether finally reason had found a foothold in Ankara. For Mr. Erdoğan the hardest bit to tackle in 2020 will be the U.S. President’s repeated invitation for the NATO’s mission to be expanded to the Mid East and namely to Iraq.
Turkey, if it stops short of going all in in Libya and taps into its long forgotten diplomatic arsenal, has a unique opportunity to step forward with its home brew de-escalation efforts. President Erdoğan already had both Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Saleh on the phone. Briskly, Ankara can step forward and play on both its hundreds year long relations with Teheran and its half a century old NATO membership.
Mr.Erdoğan went to Tunisia but came back empty handed following his meeting with his counterpart Mr.Saied. The joint diplomatic, military, intelligence team that was dispatched to Moscow got no deal after three days long talks. Italy, Britain, France and Germany are seriously considering imposing a No Fly Zone which will definitely put a hold to armed drones provided by Turkey to GNA.
Vienna, no need to be a historian to reach that conclusion, is an imperial capital. Coming from Istanbul, I can’t help but think about the parallelism of these two cities being amputated of their respective empires almost simultaneously at the end of World War I.
Ankara went ahead and put the pedal to the metal in all files. No restraint, no consultation, no foresight: Just jump in head-on wherever, whenever you see trouble. Why? Simply because it almost always paid off at the ballot box. Second, there was no payback, no price tag attached to any of all these reckless foreign policy moves, manoeuvers and adventures.
So here I was back at heart of the blob. Or alternately, here I was knee-deep back in the swamp. Ten years ago this city was sort of abuzz. This time though, if President Macron kindly allows me to borrow the description he recently used for NATO, DC appeared to me sort of “brain-dead”. A good friend who had navigated these treachourous waters for decades had warned me that I would come to witness “the demise of an empire.”
Never in the history of mankind, less than ten richest persons in the world possessed more than half of the global wealth. But also, never in the history of mankind, humans lived so long and a billion people to global population was added in such a short span of time. Statesmen are in short supply in our time and at the same time all the public upheaval from Santiago to Najaf can be understood as a global rejection of being lead by anyone anyway.
It seems like Erdoğan’s Turkey not only wants to go it alone almost in all foreign policy issues but also actually expects almost all other countries, friend or foe, to, at best, applaud its acts and decisions or to understand them and to remain silent, at worst. That’s not a realistic goal.
What is the secret of the “Kılıçdaroğlu Doctrine”? That’s “winning with a disappearing act”, in a nut-shell. That is, now you see Mr.Kılıçdaroğlu and he dexterly shuffles the deck of cards lurking in the shadows, and now you don’t, the cards are open on the table with brand new names facing the voter. Ergo, CHP rises as the legendary phoenix from its ashes.
Where will Iraq go from here, I do not know. The historical process triggered by the U.S. military that toppled the most brutal dictator of its era in 2003 does not yet appear to have arrived at its final destination. It is perhaps a good enough thing to be alive for some of us, but then again, for some of us to merely survive is not enough. The brave young generation of Iraq, unlike the frequent traveler that your humble servant was, plays this game for their lives: They want to live, to be free and pursue their happiness as they see fit.
The relations between Turkey and the U.S. are beyond repair. The bilateral relations are either going to look like “operational” as in U.S.-Egypt relations for example, in which case people who consider themselves democrats will definitely go under the bus. Or, another option may appear to be, as it derives from the dominant narrative of Erdoğan, a character similar to the U.S.-Russia relations: Turkey playing the part of an equal and indispensable but difficult partner.
Turkey is anchored in the West since the Paris Peace Conference in 1856 that ensued the Crimean War. Today, over the control of a godforsaken piece of land of 120 to 32km, Putin is invited to kill too many birds with one stone.
Last week marked the fourth anniversary of the Ankara Train Station massacre. The pain caused by the hundreds of dead and injured subsists. The victims simply demanded peace. But they paid a high price for it.
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said, rather ungrammatically, that they would 'raggedy' Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu if he doesn't mind his own business. He openly and directly threatened him with these words