The age of strongmen is coming fast back upon us. Turkey has a history of rule of strongmen and Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the democratic version of that rule. For seven years of his 17 years in power, he has witnessed Syria bleed. Now that the US President Donald Trump has announced gradual withdrawal of the US forces from Syria, Erdogan has not only endorsed him but also gave a future roadmap.
In a recent article in New York Times, Erdogan announced that “Trump is Right on Syria. Turkey Can Get the Job Done”. Though the US Congress, NATO allies and some Middle Eastern partners have apprehensions about President Trump’s sudden decision for abrupt withdrawal of the US forces from war-ravaged Syria, Erdogan wrote that he had “made the right call” and Turkey is “the only country with the power and commitment to perform that task”.
He has seen off two US presidents – President Bush and President Obama – and standing by the third one in the latter’s one of the most controversial decisions. He tried to convince the international audience that Turkey handled with the terrorists in Syria better than international powers did in Iraq.
Drawing a lesson from Iraq, he threw caution against “reckless actions” and “premature declaration of victory”, a clear reference to President Trump’s tweets about victory over the IS in Syria. Counting his credentials for suitability to the task, he said IS called his “treacherous Satan” and his country is “the sole stakeholder” that can work with both the US and Russia.
However, things may not be as easy as Erdogan believes them to be. After all, shortly before writing his proposals for the US media, he had refused to meet the US National Security Advisor John Bolton. He did not meet the top-ranking US official and called a “grave mistake” the US demand that Turkey will protect Syrian Kurds after withdrawal of the US forces. Erdogan’s reaction to Bolton almost scuttled the mission the latter was leading in the region for smooth withdrawal from Syria.
Strongmen used to humble those they think do not meet their stature. This is perhaps why that Erdogan felt it convenient not to meet Bolton. His Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu went one step further saying that Turkish operation against Kurd outfits has nothing to do with the US announcement about withdrawal of its troops. The US withdrawal or no withdrawal, Cavusoglu said they would continue operation against Kurd outfits for the sake of national security.
It was after that sharp reaction that Erdogan proposed that a force made up of all communities including Kurds will be formed to keep peace in Syria. He said that Kurd outfits, which have been declared terrorist both by Turkey and the US, will be defeated and the children they were using as fighters will be reunited with their families. He also said that he had no “argument” with Kurds living in the north of Syria, which is close to Turkey.
Some outfits of Kurds are struggling to acquire a separate homeland for them, carved out of the areas they live on both sides of border between Syria and Turkey. Turkey has already angered both the Russian regime and Russia by shooting down their aircraft. Erdogan’s claim that he is the only one to stop Syria from post-war mayhem will not go down well with Iran, a key stakeholder in Syria. Bolton had issued from Israel the statement about guarantee from Turkey for protection of Kurds, which carries a tacit message for Erdogan that his support for some Palestinian groups is unwelcome. Against this background, it is illogical for the US decision makers to trust Turkey with Syria after them. *
Published in Daily Times, January 11th 2019.