What’s Turkey Got to Do With US Pullout From Syria?

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Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: Gokhan Balci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: Gokhan Balci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

With America’s imminent withdrawal from Syria, analysts are turning to the position of other regional players including Turkey. Of all the regional players in the Middle East at this hour, Turkey is of particular concern since many in the media believe it was the telephone conversation between President Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that solidified Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria (which triggered the resignation of Secretary of Defense General Mattis).

As Clarion Project’s Shillman Fellow and Clarion Intelligence Network Director Ryan Mauro commented:

“We can now expect Turkey to control the non-Kurdish rebel areas using rebels loyal to Turkey’s Islamist and fanatical president, Recep Erdogan. Moreover, it’s not a coincidence this withdrawal comes at the same time that an offensive by Erdogan against the Kurds in northern Syria is imminent.”

Here’s how we can further frame a conversation on Turkey in the weeks and months ahead:

  • Turkish security forces have fought a 25-year insurgency (within Turkey) against the Kurdish PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party).  Over 50,000 Turks (both ethnic Turks and ethnic Kurds) have died in this insurgency. To make sense of this insurgency and its impact on the current situation, imagine a Mexican-American insurgency in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas in which 50,000 Americans died in a generation.
  • Turkey is and will be opposed to semi-autonomous regions in bordering countries such as Iraq and Syria (where the majority of Kurds live). They see the Kurdish Iraqi provinces as a stepping stone to a Kurdish nation state.
  • The Turkish government tolerated an ISIS presence in Turkey and allowed ISIS fighters passage from Turkey into Syria in the first years of Syria’s multi-sided civil war. Turkey regards ISIS as a short-term controllable threat and the Kurdish PKK in Iraq and People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria as long-term existential threats.

Turkey’s president has visions of recreating the Ottoman Empire, with him reigning as its caliph. In this dream, he is competing with Iran, which is steadily marching forward to actualizing its own vision — that of an Iranian-dominated “Shiite Crescent” that consolidates the ayatollah’s influence in a continuous arc from Iran to Lebanon.

The American withdrawal from Syria brings both of these dangerous men one step closer to realizing their twisted fantasies.



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Shireen Qudosi

Shireen Qudosi is Clarion Project's National Correspondent.