Syria: Erdogan’s Karmic Trap

By GHASSAN KADI*

(January 17) – The security zone America intends to establish in Syria is doomed to fail sooner or later. How can this assertion be made and what can it be based on? Well, two main things really; history and facts on the ground.

America’s seven-decade long post WWII intensive and consecutive military gambles have all failed, and without a single exception. And even though America has learnt a big lesson in Vietnam and went into Iraq more prepared; not only in terms of fire power, but also in terms of media control and manipulation of public opinion, it also failed there. And to think that it also learned from the mistakes of the USSR in Afghanistan and adopted more lethal and effective military tactics that should work, they also failed. So why should an alleged army of 30,000 odd Kurdish YPG fighters with ill-defined American support achieve what much bigger fighting forces couldn’t?

But not only is this army that America is trying to build and establish much less potent than former similar armies, but it is also surrounded by many more opponents.

So let’s get this right. In comparison to what happened in Iraq in 2003 when America invaded, it had over 150,000 troops, state-of-the-art military hardware, a huge fleet of multinational attack ships and huge array of fighter jets and bombers, a bottomless budget and no real Iraqi army nor any resistance in existence. Yet, in no time, an “insurgence” sprouted from nowhere turning life on Iraqi soil into hell for the armies of the coalition. In short, even though Saddam was toppled, the invasion failed abysmally in achieving its full objectives.

Now, with an army of a meagre 30,000 Kurdish troops supported by America, the odds of winning against a coalition of the Syrian Army plus its allies are much less likely, if not impossible.

Some may argue that Kurds are hardened fighters and that they know the terrain very well. Whilst this is true, we need to stop and look at Syria and its allies because they too, at least most of them, are not any less hardened and locally savvy.

And speaking of America’s support, there’s no telling as to what extent it will be; let alone for how long.

Historically again, America has turned its back many times on its allies in similar circumstances, and the Kurds specifically are not strangers to finding themselves on the receiving end of betrayal by many of their former allies; including the Americans.

The obvious allies of Syria are first and foremost Russia without doubt. Russia cannot afford to accept anything short of a sweeping victory of its operation in Syria. But the Russians are a different breed to their “Western partners” who impose their terms and conditions on the allies. The Russians know that they need to juggle other interests in order to make certain that their efforts succeed.

It was easier then for the Russians to round up Iran and Turkey together in confronting Daesh. This part of the Russian role didn’t need too much diplomacy. But now that the defeat of Daesh is a done deal, other once less important issues take centre stage and can tend to make the situation a bit sticky, to put it mildly.

Almost in every mention of Erdogan in all of my previous articles, I have reiterated that he is both an Islamist and a nationalist. He’s been getting away with both for a long time, but perhaps I had a premonition that soon enough, a time will come at which he won’t be able to wear both hats at the same time.

We must remember that Erdogan and Assad will probably never make up. Erdogan has caused so much devastation in Syria and the blood he spilt is still warm. Syrians are not ready or prepared to forgive him even if he pleads on his knees. With that said, Russian diplomacy has narrowed the gap between Turkish and Syrian interests during the war on Daesh phase.

As the opposing forces are poised to enter a new phase; albeit that of negotiations or fighting or both, the anti-American Empire side remains united in seeking total liberation of Syrian territory and the unconditional restoration of Syrian sovereignty. They all seek the withdrawal of the American presence in Syria and are united in regarding this presence as illegal, and it is. They are all against a Syrian federation and the establishment of a Kurdish state. But this is all about what they have in common.

Simply put, this is mainly where their interests diverge:

Firstly, Syria and Iran do not recognise the existence of the state of Israel, but Russia has good relations with Israel. All three parties remain united though, each knowing and accepting the position of the others. This ideological difference may surface once other more pressing matters are resolved, but at the moment, Russia, Syria and Iran agree to disagree on this.

Secondly, Turkey was prepared to sacrifice its former ideological and trade partner Daesh. This became easier as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) turned against its former member Qatar, and with Turkey siding with Qatar, it became easy for Erdogan to turn his back against the GCC-sponsored Daesh. But Erdogan is not prepared to sever ties with the Turkey-Qatar-sponsored Al-Nusra Front.

Erdogan still believes that he can hold on to the Al-Nusra Front; simply because he is an incurable Islamist.

What he cannot see is that his nationalist and Islamist agendas are finally at odds and that he will soon have to choose one or the other.

As the way out of the “War on Syria” became more complex for the original perpetrators, many former allies and foes had to make very costly and embarrassing decisions. Erdogan doesn’t seem to understand that had it not been for Russia and Russian diplomacy, his nose would’ve been rubbed in the dirt a long time ago.

However, time is closing in for Erdogan to choose. He should be counting his blessings and the fact that Russian diplomacy has given him a face-saver not only by accepting his apology for the downing of the Su-24 in Nov 2015, but also in including him and Turkey as a partner in the joint war on Daesh effort, and thereby absolving him from his former affiliations and business deals with it.

In theory, he should be agreeing to any reasonable resolution Russia seeks in Syria, but the incurable Islamist is simply unable to distance himself from the shackles of what comes with this tag.

So back to the diverging interests, it is true and realistic to say that thirdly and perhaps most importantly, the onus is on Russia to find a resolution that can be based on pertinent common interests of Syria, Iran and Turkey, and one that also serves Russian interests.

Erdogan needs to wise up to realise that he will soon have to choose between being a historic partner in a resolution that will be recorded in history as the first of its kind heralding the beginning of the end of the so-called “New World Order” or, alternatively choose to continue to be affiliated with a bunch of greasy bearded head choppers.

He needs to acknowledge that the peace and security of his area, including that of Turkey, is one that is regional and therefore more expansive than his narrow religious, and grossly sectarian, narratives and inclinations. He must accept that the Sunni approach has already been tried, and that it failed.

The time for Erdogan to wear two hats is coming to a close, if it hasn’t already. Nationalistic views do not match with Islamist views, and if Erdogan sees a fissure in his alliance with Russia and Iran in Syria, he ought to look inside his own head and see that his own ideologies are at war with themselves inside his very head.

Russian diplomacy continues to exercise patience with him, but his window of time is closing and closing fast.

As new lines keep getting drawn in the “War on Syria”, the only wildcard and stick in the mud is Turkey’s Erdogan. It’s a karmic trap that Erdogan had inadvertently set for himself. What is interesting here is that whether Erdogan is aware of this or not, his popularity as the Sunni hero has dropped dramatically in the Muslim street after he reconciled with President Putin. Many of his once great admirers referred to him as a traitor and that he has let them down. He cannot restore his lost popularity without making a 180 degree turn on Russia, and even if he does, he will find it very difficult to rally up an overwhelming Sunni sentiment, especially in the wake of the Saudi-Qatari crisis. If he had half a brain, in other words, he must acknowledge that he has nothing to gain by sticking to his support of Al-Nusra, but much to lose. But will he be able to rid himself of his fundamentalist Islamist ambitions and make rational decisions? Only time will tell.

*Ghassan Kadi, a native of Beirut, is an analyst of Middle East affairs and the author of An Epic of Integrity: The Chronicles of the War on Syria (June 2016). Visit Intibah and Ghassan Kadi’s website.

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