From Smirking Chimp
US foreign policy in the Middle East is not merely adrift, it is in a state of severe crisis. Even as Turkish tanks and warplanes continue to pound US allies in northwestern Syria (The Kurds), powerbrokers in the White House and the Pentagon are unable to settle on a way forward. The frantic attempts to placate their NATO ally, Turkey, while trying to assuage the fears of their mostly Kurdish proxy-army (Syrian Democratic Forces) has further underscored the dismal absence of a coherent policy that would not only address the rapidly-changing battlespace but also deal with the prospect that a critical regional ally (Turkey) might seek strategic objectives that are directly at odds with those of Washington.
The present disaster that is unfolding in the Afrin canton in Syria's northwest corner could have been avoided had the Trump administration abstained from announcing that it planned a permanent military presence in east Syria, which implied its tacit support for an independent Kurdish state. This, in fact, was the trigger for the current crisis, the provocation that set the dominoes in motion.
The unexpected escalation of fighting on the ground (Afrin), along with Turkey's promise to clear the Syrian border all the way to the Iraq, has only increased the sense of panic among Trump's top national security advisers who are making every effort to minimize the damage by trying to bring Turkey's invasion to a swift end. As yet, there is no sign that Turkey will stop its onslaught short of achieving its goals, which involve defeating elements of the People's Protection Units (YPG) that have joined the US-backed SDF.
Ankara has already warned Washington that it will defend its national security against Kurdish forces (which it considers "terrorists") whether US troops are located in the area or not. The possibility that one NATO ally might actually attack US Special Forces operating on the ground in Syria has ignited a flurry of diplomatic activity in Washington and across Europe. What started as an announcement that was intended to send a warning to Moscow and Tehran that the US planned to be in Syria "for the long-haul," has dramatically backfired pitting Ankara against Washington while casting doubt on the Trump administration's ability to defuse a potentially-explosive situation. Here's a clip from veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn's latest in The Independent:
"The US may want to get rid of Assad and weaken Iran across the region but it is too late. Pro-Iranian governments in Iraq and Syria are in power and Hezbollah is the most powerful single force in Lebanon. This is not going to change any time soon and, if the Americans want to weaken Assad by keeping a low-level war going, then this will make him even more reliant on Iran.
"The present Turkish incursion shows that Ankara is not going to allow a new Kurdish state under US protection to be created in northern Syria and will fight rather than let this happen. But the YPG is highly motivated, well-armed and militarily experienced and will fight very hard, even though they may ultimately be overwhelmed by superior forces or because the Turkish and Syrian governments come together to crush them.
"It was a bad moment for the US to stir the pot by saying it would stay in Syria and target Assad and Iran. A Kurdish-Turkish war in northern Syria will be a very fierce one. The US obsession with an exaggerated Iranian threat -- about which, in any case, it cannot do much -- makes it difficult for Washington to mediate and cool down the situation. Trump and his chaotic administration have not yet had to deal with a real Middle East crisis yet and the events of the last week suggest that they will not be able to do so." (Patrick Cockburn, The Independent)
The Trump administration has made a hash of everything and it is no longer certain that their present Syria strategy is viable. Trump's national security adviser General HR McMaster has made every effort to smooth things over with Ankara, but his promises of accommodation do not approach Turkey's grandiose demands. Consider the list of Turkish demands listed in the Turkish Daily, The Hurriyet:
"1. No weapons should be given to the YPG.
2. Weapons already delivered to the YPG should be taken back immediately.
3. Military training given to the YPG should be ceased.
4. No logistical support should be given.
5. All ties with the YPG should be cut."
The Trump administration is not prepared to sever ties with its most effective fighters on the ground. Washington intends to use these troops to hold territory in the east, launch destabilizing attacks on the Assad government, and to undermine Iran's influence in Syria. As one anonymous US official candidly admitted, "The entire US strategy rests on the Kurds." So, while McMaster has already promised to stop all weapons shipments to the SDF, he will undoubtedly reverse his position when the fighting subsides and the crisis passes.
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