Where is Erdogan’s outright blackmail coming from? It is worth asking this question, given the audacity with which he’s claiming the right to invade northern Syria and use scorched-earth tactics against the Kurds in Rojava.
Last week he was a bit more explicit than usual, speaking to a Turkish domestic audience which generally approves of the offensive, with the exception of the Kurdish HDP. He warned that if the EU were to call it an “invasion,” he would send to Europe the 3.6 million refugees that we essentially hired him to manage. He also attacked his critics, such as Egypt’s al-Sisi, calling him “a murderer of democracy,” and the Saudis, pointedly reminding them of the massacres in Yemen. In short, his message was, “who are you to judge?”
No doubt, he’s right that these critics are themselves a bunch of criminals. He even went further and reproached NATO for not supporting him: according to Article 5, “NATO countries have no right to stay silent when a NATO country is being attacked” by “terrorists.”
In short, he was more provocative than ever. The media headlines in the West, however, were not quite accurate themselves: “Yet Another War,” “Erdogan’s War,” “A Stab in the Back” and similar, a counterpoint to the “offensive” name chosen for the Turkish offensive, “Peace Spring.” One should note that the lexicon we use to talk about the wars caused by the West is full of dishonest words. This isn’t really “yet another war,” nor is it just Erdogan who is “stabbing the Kurds in the back”—much like the Turkish invasion isn’t going to be a “spring of peace,” but only the source of new wars. It’s not “yet another war” because Erdogan is only bringing the mess of ambiguities that has characterized the US and EU’s operation for the destabilization of Syria to its logical conclusion.
This destabilization operation, as Alberto Negri has written in il manifesto, was an attempt to “lead the Arab Springs from behind.” It all started with the role played by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—who was enthusiastic about the project—and President Obama—who was more circumspect—and the NATO war which brought down Gaddafi in Libya in October 2011. Just a year later (on Sept. 11, 2012) this disastrous enterprise came biting back, with the murder of the US Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi. As Obama himself admitted, the Libya situation was “a shit show.” It was also in 2011 that the conflict broke out which led to the destabilization of Syria, much more strategically decisive for the Middle East than the Libyan oil platform, crucial as that was in its own right.
The trip to Hama by the US ambassador, Robert Ford, among the Syrian rebels—as he recounted it himself in a 2017 interview with Newsweek—was the green light to send in the jihadi foreign fighters who were stationed in Turkey, which was given the task to manage them. Erdogan fulfilled this task with great zeal, with NATO assistance: he armed them, trained them and engaged in profitable business with ISIS, including with oil, a scandal that the brave journalists at Cumhuryet exposed before being imprisoned or forced into exile.
The fictional notion that was spread among the “Friends of Syria” coalition (involving everyone from the US to all European countries, including Italy, as well as Saudi funding) was that there was a “democratic opposition” in the country—which ended up fizzling out within a few months, consumed by radicalism and by the strength of ISIS and the many Syrian branches of Al Qaeda. As a result, the entire operation failed. The type of destabilization that was successful in Libya did not work in Syria, and the Assad regime remained in power for three and a half years and counting, despite all the destruction, massacres and six million refugees. Obama took stock of the situation at the end of 2015 and signaled an openness toward Russian intervention in his “fireside chat” with Putin in the Oval Room at the White House; at the same time, Iranian intervention was beginning to make its presence felt on the battlefield, with the Pasdaran and Hezbollah forces in support of the Shia regime in Damascus.
As a result, those who were left to fight ISIS—itself an organic offshoot of the Saudi regime—were not the self-styled “democratic” armed opposition, nor any Westerners. Instead, there was the Syrian and Russian army, together with the Iranian Pasdaran and Hezbollah, with the latter immediately becoming a target for Israeli air strikes—and, above all, the progressive Kurdish YPG forces who are loyal to Ocalan and the Turkish PKK, who were committed during the war to building a confederal autonomous region, democratic and multiethnic, in Rojava. In the run-up to Moscow’s intervention, as Syria had become the battlefield for a rampant proxy war between nations, Washington—first under Obama and then under Trump—made its contribution by bombing ISIS from above, including with drones. The few remaining “boots on the ground,” in the form of around 100 members of the US Special Forces who ended up fighting alongside the Kurds of the YPG, are all that is left of this ambiguous affair.
Trump, a sovereignist and isolationist, has finally cleared up the ambiguity with his decision to “withdraw,” which simply means giving Erdogan, a NATO ally, permission to finally have his slice of the Syrian pie, after many previous Western promises to that effect, for fear that it would end up in the arms of Putin instead. He is now allowed to set up his buffer zone for Turkish control over the area, where he can start dumping the enormous number of refugees that we have outsourced into his care, for a bill of no less than €6 billion.
Accordingly, the joint request made by Conte and NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg to Erdogan to “act with restraint” sounds more than a little complicit, to say the least. It translates to Erdogan having a free hand, as this is our foreign debt to pay for all the Western wars: he can ravage Syria even more and wipe the revolutionary project of Rojava off the face of the earth with impunity—especially since Turkey is NATO’s “southern bulwark” after all, and, apparently, if a NATO army starts a war these days, the other allies will just call for “restraint” with a wink and a nod. What will come of this tremendous “stab in the back” that the West has perpetrated on the Kurds, employing Erdogan as a hired gun? This time, our ability to mobilize will be crucial.
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