Endgame for Erdogan

There has also been a sea change in the thinking of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK’s imprisoned leader, abandoned Marxist-Leninism for Murray Bookchin’s communalism.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As someone who has closely followed Turkish affairs for a number of years, I was shocked to learn that US President Donald Trump had given the green light for a third Turkish invasion of Syria and ordered the withdrawal of US troops from observation posts at Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn. This decision is on a par with the UN failure to defend the “safe area” of Srebrenica in Bosnia in 1995, which led to the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys.
Both the US and Russia have refused to be part of a joint UN Security Council statement condemning the operation, and NATO’s response has been tepid, with Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg repeating the mantra of Turkey’s legitimate security concerns and calling for restraint. Turkey in turn has called for a declaration of solidarity on the part of NATO, in effect, a letter of indulgence giving Turkey a free hand.
The security issue is disputed by the Rojava Information Center, which has published a database covering the first eight months of 2019 with details of 35 cross-border attacks from Turkey in contrast to one incident from northeastern Syria, where the perpetrator was arrested by the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF).
There has also been a sea change in the thinking of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK’s imprisoned leader, who has abandoned Marxist-Leninism for Murray Bookchin’s communalism, which has been the ideological basis for the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the PKK’s counterpart in Syria.
According to Deborah Bookchin, Murray Bookchin’s daughter, the Syrian Kurds have created communities which empower women and people from every ethnic and religious background. US officers who have fought in Syria attest to the reliability of their Kurdish allies, who make up the major part of their SDF, and their commitment to democratic values such as equal rights for women, freedom of speech and religion as well as local governance.
Former US special envoy to the coalition against ISIS Brett McGurk has in a tweet put the situation in proper perspective: “The United States has and was bending over backwards to address all security concerns for Turkey. There was no imminent threat. This has nothing to do with Turkey’s security. It’s part of a plan to extend Turkey’s border 30 km. into Syria.”
McGurk also makes it clear that thanks to the SDF it was possible to clear Tel Abyad, which was the main supply route for weapons, explosives and fighters for ISIS from Turkey. Again, over Turkey’s objection the SDF was enabled to seize Manbij, which an ISIS team used as a jumping off point for the Paris attacks. Since then, there have been no further directed attacks into Europe.
The EU’s response was more like that of a circus horse with the front legs going in one direction and the rear legs in another. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker expressed understanding for Turkey’s security concerns and called for restraint but Hungary, whose governing party Fidesz is the mirror image of Turkey’s AKP, blocked a joint statement so as not to upset Turkey. Nevertheless, the EU Council has now condemned Turkey’s military action but stopped short of an arms embargo.  
The US reaction has so far been heartening. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump supporter, blasted the president’s decision as “short-sighted and irresponsible” and the way their Kurdish allies had been “shamelessly abandoned.” When Congress returns from recess, it will be presented with bipartisan bills both in the Senate and the House to impose severe sanctions on Turkey. Trump also risks losing his electoral base, as televangelist Pat Robertson has warned the president is “in danger of losing the mandate of Heaven.”
Erdogan’s calculation 
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s move may appear hazardous but it is based on calculation. Cofounder of the governing AK party and now opposition deputy Abdullatif Sener had earlier said that Erdogan would be prepared to drag Turkey into a civil war to maintain his hold on power, which is what has happened.
In a keynote speech in Diyarbakır in 2005, Erdogan was the first Turkish leader to admit Turkey had a Kurdish problem. Secret talks were later held in Oslo with the PKK, which ultimately led to a call for a ceasefire by Abdullah Ocalan in 2013. At the end of February 2015, the Turkish government and the PKK agreed on a 10-point plan (“the Dolmabahce agreement”), which would have led to a peaceful settlement of the conflict. This, however, was overturned the following month, when Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chair of the Kurdish-based HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party), made it clear the party would not support Erdogan’s plans for an executive presidency.
The tipping point was the election result in June, when the governing AKP (Justice and Development Party) lost its overall majority and the HDP overcame the electoral threshold of 10% with 13% of the vote. In July 2015 the conflict with the PKK was reignited, and a snap election held in November returned the AKP’s overall majority.
After the AKP’s defeat in the Istanbul reelection in June and the collapse of Turkey’s economy, it is now estimated that the AKP’s core voter base has been reduced to under 30%. Turkey’s invasion of the Kurdish province of Afrin in northwestern Syria in January 2018 was supported by almost 90% of the electorate, and now Erdogan sees a new incursion east of the Euphrates as an opportunity to regain popular support. The invasion has again been branded as a peace-keeping operation in the war against terrorism, with the added bonus that two million Syrian refugees out of Turkey’s 3.6 million can be resettled in the Kurdish areas.
The only drawback is if the invasion is countered with an effective US response, which is why the ball is once again in America’s court.
The writer is a commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press.