Is Turkish expansionism unstoppable?
- The Iraqi government is absolutely opposed to Ankara’s push to expand its military role in Iraq
- Turkey’s military presence is also aimed at staving off any Kurdish aspiration for an independent state
- Unfortunately, US actions and policies in the Middle East have been contradictory, misguided, and counterproductive
The United States State Department is stunned that Turkey, a NATO member and a U.S. ally, is relentlessly bombarding Kurdish militants in Syria. Furthermore, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is unduly pressuring Iraq to let Turkey be involved in the military operation underway to regain Mosul from Islamic State.
The Iraqi government is absolutely opposed to Ankara’s push to expand its military role in Iraq. Turkey is also determined to increase its military presence in Syria. Both might be viewed by some political commentators as a move to countervail Iran’s influence in those Middle Eastern countries ravaged by sectarian violence.
It is the first time, since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire almost a century ago, that Turkey has military forces in its former colonies. Also, in 1974 Turkey invaded Cyprus under the pretext of protecting the rights of the Turkish minority and still occupies the northern part of this Mediterranean island.
Ankara’s political and military goals are clear: to increase its influence in the Arab world, particularly in the Middle East, to counterbalance ever-expanding Shia hegemony in the region. Turkish President Recep Erdogan wants to portray himself as the savior of the so-called oppressed Sunni population.
Turkey’s military presence is also aimed at staving off any Kurdish aspiration for an independent state. Ankara’s military assault on Kurdish forces in Syria is a clear indication of the brutal implementation of Erdogan’s anti-Kurdish policy.
Moreover, Turkish president’s main foreign policy adviser expressed his deep concern regarding the military operation to retake Mosul, because of the participation of Kurdish militants and the possible expansion of Kurdish territory in Iraq.
More troubling are reports published in the October 28 issue of the Wall Street Journal. Turkey, a NATO member, seemingly stands in the way of the Christians’ return to the areas liberated from ISIS. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan inserted thousands of Turkish forces into Nineveh months ago, and he insists they participate in the fight against ISIS. The Turkish president told an Arab news channel this month, “only Sunni Arabs, Turkomens, and Sunni Kurds” should remain in the Mosul region once it is liberated. Under martial law in his own country, he has closed churches and detained Christian clergy.
Many Christians in Iraq fear Turkey seeks to re-establish its own empire out of the crumbling ISIS caliphate, one similar to the Ottoman Empire, the same government that killed more than 1.5 million Armenian and Assyrian Christians in genocides a century ago.
Turkey is suspicious of President Obama’s policy in the Middle East and especially in Syria. Erdogan worries that Washington implicitly supports the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in Syria and its eventual expansion to parts of Turkey, Iraq, and possibly Iran. This theory was first advanced by some Israeli foreign policy experts in the 1970s as a political and military strategy to weaken Muslim countries hostile to Israel.
Against this backdrop, Erdogan’s options seem limited and unsavory. His rapprochement with Russia suggests that he is frustrated with the Kurdish problem. There are even reports that indicate that Erdogan, through Russian President Vladimir Putin, might strike a deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to have Syrian military aircraft bombard Syrian Kurds in order to put their dream of an independent state to rest, at least temporarily.
But is this what Turkey really wants? Does Erdogan envisage a Turkey severing its ties with Europe and the United States and fostering a closer relationship with Moscow that might eventually curb the very fundamental national interests that Ankara is aiming to pursue?
Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, although not an impartial party in Syria’s civil war because of his support of Syrian President Assad, said that Turkish involvement in Syria is a thinly veiled land grab designed to establish Turkish dominance over both Mosul in Iraq and Aleppo in Syria.
Did Washington anticipate this Turkish geopolitical stratagem? Is the White House tacitly encouraging Ankara to get involved in Syria and Iraq for some nebulous and dark ploy?
US policy in the Middle East has encountered many challenges and setbacks in the last few decades. It has also been a series of frustration and disappointment. Is allowing Turkey to intervene in Syria and Iraq another tragic error?
Unfortunately, US actions and policies in the Middle East have been contradictory, misguided, and counterproductive.
Will Washington be able to take the necessary political decisions to prevent Turkey from illegally acquiring land in Syria and Iraq?
Reports indicate that the United States is very popular among the Iraqi Kurds, since they owe their very existence to the United States. However, the Kurds are also very cautious; the United States has abandoned them twice-in 1975 and 1992-after initially encouraging them to rise up against the central government.
The United States should resist Turkish pressure and continue to assist the Kurds, both militarily and diplomatically, which are currently battling ISIS and making significant gains. Unfortunately, Washington has a long history of abandoning its closest allies in a bid to score more points in this race called realpolitik…