Last week the administration breathlessly announced that it had secured Turkey’s participation in the anti-ISIS campaign. This would entail Turkish airstrikes against ISIS positions, and Turkey granting the US use of Incirlik and other airbases for strike and drone aircraft. The straw that supposedly broke the camel’s back was an ISIS suicide bombing of a Kurdish protest on the Turkey-Syria border (by people wanting to cross to Kobane to help in reconstruction) and the subsequent killing of two Turkish policemen by Kurds who blamed Turkey for the bombing.
With great fanfare, Turkey launched an airstrike against ISIS. And then it has spent the last week bombing the snot out of Kurdish PKK positions in Iraq. If Turkey has engaged in further attacks against ISIS, I haven’t seen it reported, whereas there Turkey has attacked Kurdish positions on a daily basis. Nor do I believe that an extensive campaign would be possible without close coordination between the US and Turkey to avoid fratricide, mid-air collisions, etc., if their forces are operating in the same airspace against the same targets. And as I discuss below, it is unlikely such coordination is occurring.
In sum, under the pretext of attacking ISIS Turkey is attacking its real enemy, the Kurds, who happen to be the only effective ground force against ISIS, and who in addition to pushing them out of Kobane have been taking territory from ISIS and pushing it back towards Raqqa. Indeed, the Kurds have pushed ISIS away from virtually all of the Syria-Turkey border. But in addition to inflicting damage on the Kurds, the Turkish attacks will also no doubt divert Kurdish resources into a renewed war against Turkey, thereby further diminishing pressure on ISIS.
Put differently, the allegedly anti-ISIS Turkish campaign is objectively pro-ISIS.
This is not surprising, because Turkey has always perceived the Kurds-especially the PKK-as a true enemy, and has hardly been stalwart anti-ISIS. Indeed, there is much circumstantial evidence that elements in Turkey support ISIS. Turkey did precious little to seal the border with Syria, thereby allowing ISIS to move men from Turkey into Syria. Furthermore, most of ISIS’s oil is sold in Turkey. Turkey says that the PKK are atheist Marxists, but it is more accurate to say that the real beef is that they are not Sunni Islamists like Erdogan, which means that he has more affinity on sectarian grounds for ISIS than he does the Kurds.
Today Egypt went even further, explicitly accusing Turkey of supporting ISIS fighters in the Sinai.
But it gets better! The supposed deal between the US and Turkey for the use of airbases is only a verbal understanding. And we know about the reliability of verbal understandings in that part of the world, don’t we? (This is why I doubt there is any serious coordination between US and Turkish air forces, and why I believe that there is no serious Turkish action against ISIS.)
Further, no formal deal is expected for weeks:
But the Pentagon said it will take “weeks” before U.S. airstrikes are launched from Turkish soil, as officials are still working out final arrangements. Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Monday that several bases were being looked at to house U.S. aircraft for missions against the Islamic State.
My guess is that “weeks” will turn into “never.” Erdogan, engaged in an intense domestic political battle following his bruising electoral defeat (to which a Kurdish party greatly contributed) is waging war on the PKK both because he hates them and because it plays well domestically, thereby boosting his position in coalition negotiations or a snap election. He will string out negotiations with the US until he accomplishes his political objectives, and then his enthusiasm for letting the US use Turkish bases will evaporate. Erdogan dangled supporting the US against ISIS to get a US (and NATO) green light to attack the Kurds: he will take the latter and renege on the former.
Even if, against my strong expectation, Turkey does permit US use of its bases, this will matter militarily only if the airpower supports and is coordinated with a strong ground force. At present, the only real ground force is Kurdish, and (a) Turkey is attacking the Kurds and (b) do you really think Erdogan is going to permit the use of the bases in a way that strengthens the Kurds? This is all so farcical.
This is not the first time the US has betrayed the Kurds: it has been a habit for going on 30 years. But this most recent action, betraying them again in the name of fighting ISIS, when in fact this betrayal will undermine the anti-ISIS campaign, is the most shameful of all.
Turkey has been opposed to US interests since Erdogan’s assumption of power. It has thwarted us at every turn. Only a fool would believe Erdogan (one of the leaders whom Obama said he got on best with-ha!) has changed his tune. I will certainly not discount the possibility that Obama and Kerry are fools of the first order, but I think it is more likely that this is a truly cynical ploy, with Obama pretending to have achieved a great diplomatic victory that advances the campaign against ISIS, when in fact it does nothing of the sort (and indeed is likely to do the exact opposite).
Idiocy or perfidy. Hell of a choice.