News recently that President Trump has once again done a U turn on his Syria policy – and will keep US forces in the north with their SDF (mainly Kurdish) allies – couldn’t have been more felt than in Turkey. Trump’s decision to listen to his military advisors and even titans in Congress like Lindsey Graham to keep a contingent of US troops in the north with the SDF and in the south east at Al Tanf is hugely important in that it keeps other allies there – namely France and the UK – on board and retains America’s barrier to Iran taking the east of the country as a key corridor all the way to Lebanon. It also keeps Saudi Arabia and Israel happy who were particularly vexed by the hasty decision which would have dramatically changed the Syria War chequers board.
But the decision, which is believed to involve 400 troops staying and not 200 as reported – comes with a high price: it looks as though it will alienate Turkey once and for all.
Just recently, the tumultuous relations between Trump and Erdogan took a turn for the better and, since the release of a US pastor, improved quickly, which helped the Turkish economy and signaled better cooperation in the future over arms procurement and possibly even the extradition of clergy Gulen, which Ankara believes is the brainchild behind the attempted coup in the summer of 2016.
The decision initially announced by Trump to pull out altogether from Northern Syria played well for Ankara which was able to plan on how to go about hitting the YPG element of the SDF, build a security corridor and generally throw its weight around in Syria with little worry of troubling Washington. There was though always a question hanging over the decision of what to do if Assad would strike a deal with the Kurds and Trump’s repeated statements resonating the same message over and over again – that the Kurds would always be the ally of the US and that Washington would not abandon them – rang hollow. Pulling out US soldiers from the SDF belt would have created a lot of confusion as enemies would have become friends and a new Syria war would have emerged between Turkey and the Kurds – who, to complicate things further at one point, looked as though they were poised to get the support of both the Assad regime and its enemies Israel and Saudi Arabia at the same time.
In fact, the rush to give the SDF (which Turkey considers to be the terror organization PKK), a boost is still there, which, in turn, was part of the decision by Trump to keep a good number of soldiers on the ground.
In recent weeks, according to leaked documents, reports have emerged of a new impetuous of anti Turkey hatred, which has eclipsed even the paranoia over Iran and Hezbollah and focused the minds of Israel, Saudi Arabia and Washington.
With Turkey’s expansion in the region and its military base in the Red Sea with Qatar, there is a new focal point now from the West which sees it – and its ambitions – as the biggest threat in the region, not helped by Ankara insisting on its right to purchase Russian S-400 missile systems while Trump holds back on F-35 sales to the Turkish air force.
Washington may well have rolled out the red carpet just recently for Turkey’s defense minster to keep up a pretence that Ankara-Washington relations are luke warm, at best. But the reality is that the Trump decision on troops to stay in Syria, which on the face of it masquerades as a strategy against Russia and Iran – in fact, is part of a bigger plan for Israel, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt to support the Kurds in a new battle with Turkey. A secret meeting held in December agreed to let Assad back into the Arab League and move forward with a new anti-Turkey plan, via the Kurds. With Mossad taking this initiative, we have to assume that Trump’s blessing would come with it and that his own people were a little slow in understanding the importance of the decision. If this plan is to gain some momentum soon, without interference from Iran or Russia, then it is entirely logical that Trump would want US troops to be with the SDF, rather than stand on the touchlines and let others bask in the glory, not to mention warming up relations with Riyadh which cooled in recent weeks over the Khashoggi affair thrusting the MBS entourage into the arms of the East.