With Turkey’s offensive in Syria, it is now official: we have bartered away the fate of the Kurds, whom the Americans have been exploiting as a major ally against the Caliphate.
One could already picture this outcome when I went to Kobani on Oct. 1, 2014: the city was 70% in the hands of the jihadists, and the US Air Force was giving only minimal support to the resistance in order to avoid upsetting Turkey, the second-largest army in NATO and an ally of ISIS at the time, which Turkey hoped to use to bring down Assad and grab the Aleppo region in Syria and maybe even Iraqi Mosul with its oil in the process—precisely the territories that Ataturk had had to give up at the time of the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire.
With the defeat of ISIS at the hands of the Syrians, Shiite militias, Iranians and the Lebanese Hezbollah, Erdogan has had to scale down his plans to become Sultan of the Middle East—and the present offensive is the carrot being offered to him to get him back in the NATO fold.
To secure this objective, Erdogan has made friends with Putin, but also with Tehran. At stake was the fate of the Kurds and that of Rojava, the only experiment in governance in the region that resembled a European secular state.
The Rojava “democracy factory” at the Turkish-Syrian border is now forced to shut its doors, with a sign saying: “Closed due to American betrayal.”
Even the Republicans, on whom the US president relies to save him from impeachment, have been asking Trump to reconsider his decision to withdraw the US troops, which were acting as a buffer between the Turks and Kurds in a “safe zone” that has now become yet another battlefield in the ongoing “piecemeal World War 3,” as the Pope has described it.
Furthermore, Rojava threatens to turn into a trap with unforeseeable consequences—including for Trump, who has betrayed an ally and dealt yet another blow to the little remaining credibility that he and the United States still has. Back in December, the president had thrown US allies into a panic after his sudden announcement that he would withdraw 2,000 soldiers from Syria, saying the Islamic State had already been defeated. If the situation in Rojava falls apart, thousands of former ISIS fighters currently guarded by the Kurds could be freed by the Turks or escape.
And there’s more: Erdogan says he wants to relocate a part of the three million Syrian refugees in Turkey to this region.
This is a possibility, but it comes together with an ominous certainty: the Turkish leader will deploy the pro-Turkish Islamist militias there, and perhaps even the jihadists who will have to withdraw from Idlib when it will finally be conquered by the Syrian and Russian forces.
To put it simply, part of Rojava is being set up to become a new “home” for jihadists from ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups that have been Turkey’s on-and-off allies in recent years. Erdogan’s objective is to create a jihadist and fundamentalist “wall” who would oppose the Kurds, and which can then be maneuvered to undermine the re-occupation of these territories by Assad as well.
It should be noted that ISIS claimed responsibility for attacks on Kurdish militias on Wednesday, a clear signal that Turkey, despite its official statements, has not abandoned the idea of setting up fundamentalists in pockets of Syrian territory.
This scenario, not at all unlikely, speaks volumes about the reckless moves of the White House, which is posturing about possible economic and political retaliation against Ankara if it “crosses the line,” while knowing very well that Erdogan has already been given the green light.
If the strategic objective is to push Turkey to return to alignment with NATO, the threats are completely lacking in substance. But we will have to see who will end up caught in the Rojava trap after all. Theoretically, Russia and Iran could benefit, since the Kurds, abandoned without US protection, might be pushed to jump into the arms of Putin and the Ayatollahs. But Moscow and Tehran must be cautious, because Ankara is their partner for the resolution of the Syria issue, and the latter will have to contribute to the liberation of Idlib, a region of greater strategic importance than Rojava for the regime in Damascus, by withdrawing the pro-Turkish militias there.
While Moscow has joined Iran in criticizing Turkey’s move, Putin has been cultivating Erdogan’s favor in the Syrian crisis by selling him the S-400 missile defense system, an effort that Putin will not be willing to give up just to defend the Kurds. Of course, the Turkish offensive, since it will be attacking the Kurdish militias, will also give Assad the opportunity to move troops to the east of the Euphrates, and it is possible that Damascus will turn into an ally of the Kurds, at least temporarily.
However, that might not be viewed favorably by Moscow, which needs to maintain a balancing act between Ankara and Damascus.
As for Europe, its hypocrisy is just a shade below the outrageous standard set by Trump. The EU are praising the Kurds as freedom fighters, but Germany just went to meet with Erdogan in Ankara to promise him even more EU money to block the Balkan refugee route, and has signaled a de facto acquiescence in the invasion of Rojava for the ostensible purpose of ensuring the return of Syrian refugees.
As for Italy, we’d better watch our mouths: our country has effectively become a colony, as evidenced by the arrival in Rome these days of “Bloody Gina” Haspel, the head of the CIA, coming to lend a hand to “Giuseppi,” who has not been quite as productive as expected in the Trump-ordered investigation on the origins of Russiagate. Giuseppe Conte is now starting to resemble Manzoni’s nameless Count from The Betrothed, who, in a famous scene, conspires to get rid of the inconvenient monk Father Cristoforo by arguing to his superior that keeping up appearances and avoiding scandal trumps every other consideration: “Suppress it, and cut it short, most reverend Father; suppress it, and cut it short.”