Saturday, November 28, 2015

Erdogan muddies the waters in Syria

So President Erdogan of Turkey has shot down a Russian jet over Turkey.

Russia was helping Syria to fight ISIS and was flying over Turkish airspace to do so. At the same time, Turkey has been accused, most recently with the Ankara bombings of October 10th, of turning a blind eye to ISIS.

Erdogan has been unsympathetic to the Kurds because of their power in northern Syria and southern Turkey. Even though (or perhaps because) the Kurdish Turks did yeoman work in the summer in preventing ISIS from advancing in western Syria, Erdogan has been hostile to the Kurds.

He has insisted that in return for helping the US fight ISIS in a "60-mile bombardment zone", that that zone also be free of Kurds.

Erdogan has always been hostile to the Kurds and by bombing a Russian jet, Erdogan is trying to press Obama to choose between Turkey and the Kurds.

Currently the US is in a tenuous position with regard to Syria. In dealing with the butcher Basher Assad, the US has resisted siding with him because of his slaughtering of protesters during the Arab Spring while also avoiding siding with ISIS.

Consequently the US tried to square the circle by bombing ISIS but not siding with Assad. Erdogan has tried to seize on this fragile status by shooting down a jet belonging to a country which is allied with an American enemy. In so doing, I think he wants to test American support for Turkey.

Will Obama stand with NATO ally Turkey or will he condemn the Turks for shooting down the jet? Obama cannot afford to alienate Turkey too much because of Incirlik air base in eastern Turkey which allows it access to the Middle East. In allying with Turkey too openly, the US would be alienating the Kurds. This would be harmful because the Kurds have been helpful in taking on ISIS. Obama is in a tough spot.

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