In an article titled “Regional powers are making a mess of the Middle East” (Al Jazeera America, Aug. 10), Rami Khouri, a renowned analyst (and a senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School), argued:
“We have entered a wild new era in which actors within the region are driving new ideological tensions, civil conflicts and regional wars.”
“Now when Saudis, Iranians, Turks and Egyptians fight, they do so to pursue their own goals rather than be proxy responders to superpowers’ wishes. This is a paradigm shift, and we should expect much greater destruction, longer wars, a trail of shattered lands and ungoverned terrain, with terror groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) taking root.”
”At least a dozen regional players — both states and nonstate actors — routinely stir the pot in the area, starting with local powers Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran (and its allied Shia militias in Iraq) and Hezbollah. Add Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, a resurgent Egypt and assorted Kurdish groups to the mix; aggravate tensions by introducing ISIL and the Ansarullah group (Houthis) in Yemen; and you are left with a veritable mess of powers vying for regional influence. And that’s without even counting the hundreds of local militias and political and tribal groups that operate in and across many countries.”
And, taking the examples of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, flexing more and more muscle, he concluded, that “Regional powers decide to go to war, the superpowers support them…”
Its own particularities aside, Turkey has a befitting part in this picture.
In his column in Today’s Zaman daily, Gökhan Bacık wrote that ”when it comes to Turkish foreign policy we are in the age of ‘nobody knows the truth.’”
I am sure, as far it goes, that “the truth” we know about is that, lacking any strategy, Turkish foreign policy is a combination of domestic-oriented tactics and reflexes borne out of a crystallizing convergence between Justice and Development Party (AKP) Islamism and persistent nationalism represented by the military and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
What the current conjuncture offers regarding Turkey’s double warfare spreading across its borders is certainly a powerful example of what Khouri calls “making a regional mess.” It is the reason why, on a micro level, the recent interview with Cemil Bayık, a leading figure of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in The Daily Telegraph, falls into this picture.
We know that in the growing mess of Turkey, an immediate and unilateral cease-fire by the PKK should be the utmost priority. We also know that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, tightly squeezed into a corner, is determined to instrumentalize the continuity of violence.
If the US-Turkish agreement is to be a “game-changer” for the US-led coalition to take the lead, serious efforts must be staged by intermediaries to break the spiral, because the instrumentalization of bloodbaths and destruction needs a counter “game-changer.”
Bayık’s confirmation of contacts between US officials and the PKK comes, therefore, as an important signal.
“Of course there are messages, there are meetings, letters and they are likely to develop more,” he said. “I repeat my call that the US mediate in this situation between us and Turkey, and if they give us a guarantee we accept that role. Unless there are guarantees we cannot make unilateral steps.”
“If America continues to back Turkey’s policies it is possible it will lose the Kurds,” he said. “If America loses the Kurds, it will be difficult to defeat ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)].
A key point to be made here is that what should be of concern is not Turkey’s lack of strategy, but the half-hearted engagement and incomplete American strategy on Syria.
”Turkey’s principal preoccupation seems to be neither [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad, nor Isis. Erdogan hopes a new poll, after weeks of fighting the Kurds, will draw the support of nationalists attracted by the anti-terror narrative and splinter the HDP. Only then, with a restored majority, would Erdogan turn his attention to a groundswell that could define the region’s very future. The danger is that the increasingly mercurial Turkish leader is in danger of pursuing his own political and national interests at the expense of the search for a wider regional settlement that could at last offer peace to the region.”