2016 May 30 Monday
Turkey Fights Internal War With Kurds, Split With US on Syria

Good article in the New York Times: Turkey is fighting a big Kurdish insurgency within Turkey's borders. The Kurds do not want to be ruled by the Turks any more than they want to be ruled by the Arabs or Persians. The Kurds have become more nationalistic and determined to achieve independence.

Turkey is, in theory, America's ally. I say in theory because in practice that's not really true any more. National interests of Turkey and the United States have diverged for a variety of reasons, notably including the collapse of the Soviet Union and the shift of Turkey away from secular nationalism toward Turkish Islamic nationalism. In Syria Turkey prioritizes the overthrow of Assad's government. But the United States sees ISIS/Daesh as the big threat because ISIS has carried out terrorist attacks in Europe. These attacks have been made possible, of course, by lax immigration law enforcement followed by Angela Merkel's insane invitation for masses of Middle Easterners to deluge Europe.

But back to Turkey: the Kurds do not want to be ruled by the Turks. The Turks do not want to give up a piece of their country (or at least the leaders of the Turks feel that way). How is this going to resolve? Are the Turks just going to grind down the Kurds and kill large numbers until they take back control of all Kurdish towns and cities?

Will Kurds flee Turkey for the Kurdish zones of Syria and Iraq? Will that enable the Kurds to capture even more of Syria and Iraq?

It is my impression that Kurds are more fertile than Turks. Will the Kurds eventually (thinking decades) be able to carve off a piece of Turkey to make part of Kurdistan? Also, will Kurdish Iraq remain a separate state from Kurdish Syria? Will the Syrian Kurdistan become more feminist and secular due to PKK influence?

In the short to medium term the United States has the problem that its interests and Turkey's interests are diverging in Syria. Factions that the United States wants to bomb are factions that Turkey (and even Saudi Arabia) want to support. Can Turkey prop up al Qaeda affiliate al Nusra Front against American or Russian bombing? What about Ahrar ash-Sham? It is supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia while allied with Nusra. Russia bombs it. Is the United States being ambiguous about it because American policy makers want to pretend that Saudi Arabia is our ally?

The only somewhat secular factions in Syria are Assad's government and the Kurds. Salafists dominate the remaining big players. What is the US position toward these Salafists? What do Washington DC players see as a winning scenario for US interests? It is really hard to tell. I wonder if they know themselves. I suspect not.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2016 May 30 04:53 PM 

Jim said at May 31, 2016 7:25 AM:

Isn't getting involved in all these ethnic conflicts on the other side of the globe such an enormous amount of fun?

Having spent trillions to destabilize the Middle East we can now reap the fruits of our brilliant policies. Do we want to waste billions supporting Ahrar ash-Sham or waste billions fighting against it?

Black Death said at May 31, 2016 7:43 AM:

Let's see... The Turks and the Kurds hate each other, of course. The Kurds hate ISIS/al-Qaeda, too. Turkey doesn't like ISIS/al-Qaeda, but isn't doing too much about them because they hate the Kurds and also the Assad government, which Turkey also hates. The Alawite-dominated Assad government is brutal in the extreme but opposes ISIS and does protect religious minorities (Christians, Shiites, Yazdis). Iran has grand ambitions of setting up a Shiite crescent from the Afghan border to Lebanon, so Iran and its Arab Shiite militias support the Assads and oppose the Sunni ISIS/al-Qaeda groups. Saudi Arabia and Iran hate, hate, hate each other. Each regards the other as heretical and wants to be the dominant force in the Middle Eastern Muslim world. Outside players? How about the Russians? They and the Turks hate each other. The Russians are supporting the Assad government by bombing rebel groups, including ISIS, the Kurds and so-called "free" rebel groups, some of which the US has supported. Got it? Am I leaving anything out? Probably.

If the US has a coherent policy here, its not clear to me. Obama and Clinton have made the situation a lot worse and don't seem to have any idea what they are doing. To be completely nonpartisan, neither did Bush (I or II). The Turks are supposed to be our NATO allies but are clearly not acting in accord with US interests. They recently shot down a Russian fighter, infuriating Putin. Suppose they get into a shooting war with the Russians. Are we supposed to support them? Why? Personally, I like Putin a lot more than Erdogan.

What would a rational American policy look like? How about disengagement? Of all the groups involved, only ISIS/al-Qaeda are major players in international terrorism. If we want to oppose them, we need to support the powers that are opposing them - Iran and the Shiite militias, the Assad government and the Kurds, mainly. If this angers the Turks, well, screw them. Ditto for the Saudis. The Russians, with a 15% Muslim minority, seem to understand this; they don't want the ISIS brand of radical Islam spreading to their own Muslims. The major justifications for US meddling in the Middle East have been protecting Israel and securing the access to oil. Well, Israel doesn't require our protection anymore, and we certainly don't need their oil.

BTW, the term "Salafist" applies only to fundamentalist Sunni Muslims. The Shiites (Iranian and non-Iranian) are definitely not Salafists. Terrorism is not foreign to the Shia branch of Islam (try Hezbollah, for example), but their terrorist actions have been confined mainly to the Middle East. Almost all of the big international terrorist actions (9/11, Paris, Brussels, etc.) have been carried out by Sunni supporters of factions such as ISIS and al-Qaeda. Our best protection against this sort of thing is to close the borders and kick out the "refugees."

Wolf-Dog said at May 31, 2016 12:13 PM:

Despite some diverging interests between Turkey and the West, the US and EU still want Turkey to remain intact and strong against the disintegrating Arab world, to keep the situation under control. Therefore, if the Arab world continues to disintegrate, then when there is a brutal crackdown against the Kurds, there will be no meaningful reaction from the West other than complaints.

Moreover, now that both the Arab world and Southern Europe including the Balkans are in the process of falling apart, Turkey is the only country in the region that has stability and highly effective government. As a result, by mid-century Turkey will probably become an emerging superpower in the region, both economically and militarily. The US and the EU are in favor of Turkey's "nationalist Islam", instead of the diffuse jihadist Arab Islam, and will therefore favor the rising Turkish power that is centralized and government control.

albatross said at May 31, 2016 12:46 PM:

The most important thing to remember here is that the Turks and Kurds and Syrians and Iraqis and Saudis and Iranians and Lebanese all care about 1000x more about all these issues than we do, for obvious and sensible reasons. So it's extremely unlikely that we or Russia are going to rearrange things to our liking in ways that the local players (with lots of money and military power) oppose. We can do that in places where we can pour dollars or bullets in until we've overwhelmed the locals (sometimes--but see Afghanistan, where we haven't done too well even against Pakistan's ISI and the locals preferring to run things their own way), but Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey are all pretty major powers with a lot of resources and people to put into thwarting anything we do that they oppose.

I suspect we'd be a lot better off just getting ourselves the hell out of the whole affair, but I suspect that this is poltically impossible.

Mercer said at May 31, 2016 10:25 PM:

Turkey and the Saudis were natural allies with the US against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The Soviet Union is gone and the Saudis cause far more problems around the world for us than does Putin. Turkey under its current government also is not a good ally.

"Turkey is the only country in the region that has stability and highly effective government."

Turkey does not look very stable to me. They are at war with their Kurdish minority. They have to worry about Kurdish and ISIS terrorists.

"American policy makers want to pretend that Saudi Arabia is our ally?"

Defense contractors make a lot of money selling to the Saudis. Many policymakers come from "think tanks" taking money from military contractors and/or the Saudis.

Jim said at June 1, 2016 5:26 AM:

Mercer - I agree with you that Turkey looks anything but stable in the long run. The US invasion of Iraq by leading to an essentially independent Kurdish state in what used to be Northern Iraq has greatly increased Turkish insatbility. Turkey has a population of about 80 million people and is on Europe's doorstep. Instability in Turkey is likely to greatly affect the Balkans. Greece, which isn't all that stable itself, sits next door to Turkey with a population of only about 11 million people. The Balkans has been said to have had too much history for it's own good but unfortunately it's likely to get quite a bit more history in the near future.

Wolf-Dog said at June 2, 2016 1:02 AM:

What I said above is that Turkey is (i) relatively more stable than its neighbors, including the Balkan countries that are literally falling apart and, (ii) Turkey's only internal instability is the Kurdish minority, who comprise only 20 % of the population, and if history is any guide, Turkey does have what it takes to crush a revolt from such a small minority. My argument above was that when the revolt is crushed, the Western countries will look the other way, because they still need Turkey both to keep the disintegration of the Arab World, and also as a buffer against Russia.

But seriously, not all Kurds identify with the secessionist movements, and many Kurds in Turkey are actually devout Sunni Muslims, meaning that they do intermarry with the rest of the religious Muslims in Turkey.

bob sykes said at June 2, 2016 4:39 AM:

The Kurdish reproduction rate is well above replacement levels, while the Turkish reproduction rate is well below replacement levels. The Kurdish minority, variously estimated as any where between 10 and 30% of the total population is increasing, and it will comprise a majority of the Turkish population later in this century if the trends continue.

The Turks have been trying to suppress the Kurds for decades without success. There is a continuous guerrilla war being fought in the east, with spill overs into Iraq and Syria. Under these circumstances it is hard to think of Turkey as stable. The fact that Erdogan is leading a jihadist and revanchist government also is a major problem. Turkey is neither and ally nor an asset to the US

Check it out said at June 3, 2016 2:51 PM:

Let's not forget that when the U.S. decalres war on anything and anybody, that war is not meant to be won; it is meant to be sustained. War is great business. It has nothing to do with ideals of freedom, morality, territorial integrity, defending opressed people or democracy.

There's not only oil in Syria; it is also the most strategic region in the World. That's why the U.S. will never invade North Korea: There's no oil there. North Korea is of no interest to the U.S. whatsoever, (except to be used by the media for distraction).

Syria is of interest to everybody.

Check it out said at June 3, 2016 2:58 PM:

In 2002 General Wesley Clark announced Pentagon plans to overthrow governments of several countries in five years- Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Lebanon, Libya,Somalia, Sudan, Iran.

The "International terrorsism" hoax is just a front on the Bush, T.Blare, neoCons, the "new American Century", "Arab Spring" or whatever you call it. The greatest criminals now are the U.S. NATO, EU, old colonial powers of conquest that now plunder the world.

What little of the free world now faces danger greater than Ghengis Khan, Attila -- or all combined. The world now faces the greatest danger yet, and only Russia with China could probably defend world freedom.

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