In Northern Syria, Sleepwalking into Conflict or Trump Bluff?
A Month of Confusion Between “Economic Threat” and “Cooperation” Among Allies.
Over the past four years, Turkey and the U.S. mutually teetered on the collision course in northern Syria as they had competing agendas and divergent views of a Kurdish militia aligned with the U.S. troops. But they somehow managed to control the course of things from getting worse. This time, it may not be the case.
Last month, both countries unscrupulously showed signs of sleepwalking into a conflict that everybody would terribly regret. President Donald J. Trump threatened to slap Turkey with economic sanctions if the Turkish military targeted Kurdish-dominated Syrian Defense Forces (SDF). At the core of the contention lies Turkey’s push toward SDF-held Manbij where the U.S. special forces are currently deployed. But Trump’s earlier decision in December of last year to withdraw the U.S. troops was interpreted as ceding ground to rival forces, such as Russia and Iran, triggering an impassioned debate over the nature of U.S. military endeavor in Syria and potential perils rooted in its unexpected pullout.
The American withdrawal would also remove the checks on the Turkish forces who would now unrestrainedly push forward in its longstanding quest to crush Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which forms the command structure of SDF, in Manbij. To scotch that possibility, the U.S. demands guarantees from Ankara that it would not attack its Kurdish allies once the U.S. troops leave Syria. But that seems a slender hope if the Turkish leadership’s public remarks have indicated anything so far.
The ever-widening discord threatened to further escalate after U.S. President Trump, in a tweet, vowed to destroy Turkey economically, if Ankara attacks Kurdish allies. The language appeared to be Trumpian as ever and leaving experts to gauge and measure the seriousness of his threat. Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR), questioned the wisdom of such crude rhetoric against an ally. Trump’s threatening remarks, as before, sent lira tumbling against the dollar.
Ibrahim Kalin, spokesperson and advisor of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, rebuffed the U.S. president…