Turkish and Iranian ambitions rise while US loses its influence

American influence as a superpower still relies on it respecting a value-based foreign policy.

By ERIC R MANDEL
October 27, 2019 20:58
3 minute read.
Presidents Hassan Rouhani of Iran, Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Vladimir Putin of Russia

Presidents Hassan Rouhani of Iran, Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Vladimir Putin of Russia hold a joint news conference after their meeting in Ankara, Turkey April 4, 2018. (photo credit: UMIT BEKTAS / REUTERS)

Andrew McCarthy, writing in National Review, said US President Donald Trump “has a cogent position... He wants US forces out of a conflict in which America’s interests have never been clear, and for which Congress has never approved military intervention… [he] has an exit strategy, which is to exit.”

Ronen Itsik, writing in Israel Hayom, said Trump’s withdrawal of American forces was “neither impulsive nor unreasonable.” He claims this is all part of a well-planned strategy to put pressure on Iran. Yet, during my briefings in Washington, I couldn’t find a single Congressional office, Democratic or Republican, which was aware of any comprehensive White House strategy for the Middle East.

I guess the new definition of an American victory is that you allow an Islamist NATO member to conquer your most important partner who helped you defeat ISIS, and after it has achieved all of its military goals in a campaign of aggression, suspend sanctions, impose no consequences, and declare it a “breakthrough.” Is Isolationism and abandoning your allies the new American face to the world?

American influence as a superpower still relies on it respecting a value-based foreign policy, even if we often defer to pragmatism and realpolitik. It is an American ideal we should always aspire towards, or we look and are no better than the Russians or Chinese.

Turkey is, at best, a frenemy, and helping them ethnically cleanse our Syrian Kurdish ally supposedly to create a deterrence to Iranian expansionism, as Trump’s defenders claim, makes no sense. Turkey has been undermining American security interests for the last two decades under Erdogan. That list includes everything from helping Iran evade American sanctions on its nuclear activity, to looking the other way when ISIS sold oil on Turkey’s black market, to most recently buying the Russian advanced S-400 anti-missile system, something that should have been seen as crossing a bright red line redefining what constitutes a NATO ally.

Erdogan outplayed Trump by threatening to invade Syria even if US forces were not withdrawn. Trump blinked and laid out the red carpet by withdrawing the US-controlled no-fly zone, allowing Turkey to bomb at will the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), clearing a path for their Islamist militias to follow. Trump should have told Erdogan, that we would stop anyone flying in the no-fly zone, no questions asked.

Iran and Turkey are not natural allies, but at the present time they work along with Russia for a common interest, undermining America. Russia has already worked out a deal with Turkey to divide northern Syria into spheres of influence, allowing Iran a clear path for their long-sought corridor to the Mediterranean Sea, solidifying their permanent presence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Turkish ethnic cleansing of the Kurds cannot be considered a surprise, as Turkey did exactly that to the Kurds of northwest Syria last year in Afrin.

For Turkey, destroying the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) American ally is a step towards destroying its archenemy, the Turkish Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). Erdogan’s goal of repopulating the Kurdish region with Sunni Syrian refugees, while expanding his neo-Ottoman land grab into Syria is much like Turkey’s invasion, ethnic cleansing and occupation of Northern Cyprus 40 years ago. His Islamist ideology allows him to work with Sunni Salafists in Syria, who are helping him attack the Kurds. Those radical Islamists include al-Qaeda, no friends of America.

Even if Congress reimposes sanctions on Turkey now after withdrawing our small contingent of soldiers that held disproportionate leverage in northeast Syria, it is way too late in the game to make a difference. It showed a lack of any forethought, with consequences that were easily foreseeable to almost everyone who studies the region.

Claiming President Trump has a master plan to restrain Iran by empowering Turkey is farfetched at best. The real end result is Iran wins, Turkey wins, Russia wins, Syria wins, and the US loses.

Iranian and Turkish hegemonic ambitions may one day cause them to come into conflict with one another. That day seems far off, and the unintended consequences of that scenario could lead to a rise of sectarian violence, once again drawing America into the region, this time without any cards to play to influence the situation.

The writer is the director of the Middle East Political Information Network, and regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House, and their foreign policy advisers.


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