This past week, Turkey entered the fight in Syria against ISIS to much ballyhoo from the mainstream media. But according to Christoper Caldwell, who quotes the German weekly Der Spiegel, “ISIS is a pretext, the Kurds are the target.”
Says Caldwell, Turkey’s strategic objective is not to “crush” ISIS. It is to crush the most effective part of the anti-ISIS coalition: the Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and People’s Protection Units (YPG). Thus, when the Istanbul daily Sabah ran a headline about the Turkish incursion into Syria, it said nothing about ISIS. Rather it said: “Turkish forces shell YPG positions. . . .”
From the Turkish perspective, this may well make sense. Kurdish nationalism has led frequently to terrorism in Turkey over the years and is a national-security obsession for the Turks.
But what about America’s perspective? As noted, the Kurds have been the most effective part of our (oversold) anti-ISIS coalition. Indeed, they have been the only consistently effective anti-ISIS force in the Middle East, says Caldwell. If the U.S. is serious about defeating ISIS, one would think that a Turkish incursion to attack Kurds in Syria would run counter to our interests.
But that’s not how the Obama administration sees things. It is backing Turkey. Following the Turkish incursion, Vice President Biden said that the U.S. will cut off all U.S. support for our Syrian Kurd allies unless they comply with Turkish demands that they withdraw to the east of the Euphrates River.
Why is the administration taking this hard line stance against the only consistently effective anti-force in the Middle East? Caldwell suggests it’s because President Obama wants Turkey to keep cooperating in stemming the flow of Syrian refugees into Europe.
Caldwell may well be right. It’s certainly true that the administration is desperate to stay on the good side of President Erdogan.
Indeed, Biden issued his threat against the Kurds during a visit to Turkey in which he all but begged President Erdogan to believe that the U.S. had no hand in, or prior knowledge, of the failed coup against him. Erdogan almost certainly knows that this is true, but he’s milking the coup (which some say he orchestrated to consolidate power) for everything it’s worth.
If Caldwell is right, then Obama is putting Europe’s interest in stemming the refugee problem (for which Obama’s failed Syria policy is partly responsible) ahead of America’s interest in defeating ISIS.
Both interests are important and the flood of refugees into Europe is not without potential consequences for the U.S. However, it should be up to Europe to put together a package of bribes that will keep Turkey playing its part in coping with the refugee crisis. Alternatively, it should be up to Europe to find other ways to limit the flow of refugees.
The fight against ISIS should not be compromised in the name of the refugee crisis; nor should the U.S. betray its Kurdish allies.