Is the agreement between Ankara and Washington just a smokescreen for the campaign against the most efficient adversary in the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)?
Given the mood in the Turkish capital, the messages constantly delivered by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, the statistics weighing in favor of the attacks against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets and the vertically escalating instability in Turkey, the response is “yes.”
“Blundering incoherence” was the term Dov Zakheim — a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a former under secretary of defense and an expert on the region in question — used to describe the ill-planned decision by the administration of US President Barack Obama.
Zakheim is not alone. Ever since the “deal” was declared, analysts from different political standpoints, both left and right, keep blasting the White House for indulging in an engagement that, they agree, lacks vital elements of strategic thinking. Those of us in Turkey who have been monitoring the developments, albeit from different vantage points, simply agree. The deal has so far only introduced further turmoil into Turkey’s already utterly poisoned domestic political scene, helped end a vital cease-fire between the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the PKK, gave Erdoğan a pretext to demonize a legitimately elected (by a large majority in southeastern provinces) pro-Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), placed its charismatic, democratically spirited leader Selahattin Demirtaş into the firing line, awakened all hardliner elements (half)-dormant in Ankara and, most tragically, led to the deaths of more than 50 people, including civilians and troops.
In short, a historic myopia has not only not raised any hopes about an efficient period of combat against ISIL, the greatest enemy of the region and the globe, but brought social and political instability into Turkey at a time when the country least needs it. It was well known that the latest episodes of Erdoğan’s political pursuits were based on gambling but the “deal” now seems to include not only Erdoğan but also President Obama in a double gamble, by way of ill-thought-out decision-making.
According to Steven Hurst’s analysis for the Associated Press, the issue is very simple, and persistent: “Their goals, while overlapping in some ways, are far different in others, mainly on the question of how to handle Kurdish militants battling Islamic State fighters in Syria. And that’s the problem.”
The abrupt ending of the so-called “settlement process” by launching an immense attack on PKK bases in Iraq and the demonization of the HDP leaves no doubt about Erdoğan’s strategy. Utilizing the military’s anachronistic concerns about Kurds in the region attempting to seek an independent state, Erdoğan seems to have welcomed the “deal” mainly for personal gains, reasoning that it will at least help extend his rule, now under severe pressure and exposure for legal breaches, abuses of power and corruption.
We have reached a critical time in the Turkish Republic’s history in whih a leader’s personal interests, ambitions and selfish strategic thinking contradicts sharply with Turkey’s strategic interests. It is exactly at that point, almost all critics agree, that the Obama administration erred in a very grave manner.
Writing for the Independent, Patrick Cockburn, discusses the situation in a regional context in his latest article: “Washington is teaming up with a Turkish government whose prime objective in Syria is to prevent the further expansion of [pro-Kurdish Democratic Union Party/People’s Protection Units] PYD/YPG territory which already extends along 250 miles of the 550-mile-long Syrian-Turkish border. In brief, Ankara’s objective is the precise opposite of Washington’s and little different from that of [ISIL], which has been battling on the ground to hold back the PYD/YPG advance.”
So far, the result of the “deal” has only spread horror amongst Turkey’s Kurds alongside the Syrian border and alienated further the PYD in Syria from Erdoğan’s Ankara. Hasan Cemal, the most respected journalist in Turkey, has reported on the mood from the border region. Commenting on the bombardment, one Kurd in Şanlıurfa said, “Here, living is more difficult than dying.”
On the other side of the border, a representative of the PYD expressed deep mistrust of Erdoğan, adding, “In this region, whoever loses the support of his people starts a war.”