The Syrian-Turkish-Kurdish Clusterfuck, Ctd

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin has come out in favor of establishing a buffer zone along the Turkish-Syrian border, along with a no-fly zone, to protect civilians against both ISIS and the Assad regime:

“We should seek to establish a delineated buffer zone along the Turkish border in order to protect civilians, a zone which would be secured by Turkish boots on the ground, if Turkey is willing, protected by a coalition no-fly zone,” Levin said Wednesday morning at the United States Institute of Peace. “Both things will be necessary, for Turkey to consider Turkish boots on the ground inside Syria along that border, there must be a no-fly zone to protect that buffer zone… and we should seek to do that.”

This is not the first time Levin has called for a no-fly zone in Syria. In March of 2013, Levin endorsed the idea of a no-fly zone and airstrikes against the Assad regime. But that was before the Obama administration made a deal with Assad promising no airstrikes against his forces in exchange for Syria turning over its chemical weapons stockpiles.

Levin’s proposal would fulfill some of Turkey’s conditions for participating in the fight against ISIS in Syria. However, Kate Brannen points out, it would also be an expensive, risky undertaking that could draw us much deeper into the Syrian civil war than we’d like to get (which, in turn, would sort of fulfill Turkey’s other main condition):

Creating a no-fly zone along the Syrian-Turkish border that could serve as a refuge for civilians fleeing the Islamic State and a training ground for members of the Syrian opposition would most likely mean taking out Syrian air defense systems and possibly taking on its air force. That could result in significant numbers of Syrian military fatalities — and potentially American ones.

That type of fight would also run the risk of setting back the fight against the Islamic State, as the United States and its coalition members would essentially be fighting a war on two fronts. The Syrian military has not interfered with U.S. airstrikes against terrorist targets in eastern and northern Syria, but that could change if U.S. airplanes also start bombing Syrian targets.

As for Ankara’s surprising behavior of late, Totten stresses that it shouldn’t be surprising at all:

When [Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan] looks at the map he sees dominoes. Kurdish independence in Iraq could lead to Kurdish independence in Syria which could lead to Kurdish independence in Iran which could lead to Kurdish independence in Turkey. Every time a new independent Kurdish entity pops up in the Middle East, the liklihood that Turkey will lose an enormous swath of its territory increases. His analysis is correct. So he’ll bomb the Kurds but not the Islamic State. He’d be against Kurdish independence in Syria even if the PKK didn’t exist.

Turkish animosity against Kurds is hardly a secret, so I’m not sure why so many in Washington can’t understand this guy. Maybe it’s because he lets girls go to school and doesn’t stone anybody to death.

Derek Davison seconds that:

The fact that Turkey would apparently rather let Daesh slaughter and enslave the Kurdish defenders of Kobani than do anything that might benefit long-term Kurdish political aims may be immoral, unconscionable, even indefensible on a humanitarian level, and it’s fine to condemn Turkey on those grounds, but as a pure calculation of national interest, what Turkey is doing shouldn’t surprise anybody. It’s not as though America hasn’t greatly wronged the Kurds in the past, when it was in US interests to do so. It’s also worth noting that the UK and Germany have also opted out of direct military involvement in Syria, but nobody seems to be talking about expelling them from NATO or moving American military hardware to other countries in Europe.

It may be that Turkey will still come around to America’s position on Daesh, or at least closer to it; recent Kurdish protests aside, Ankara’s Syria policy has been consistently unpopular within Turkey, and PKK threats to break-off peace talks with the government over its inaction in Kobani may yet force Erdogan’s hand. But if Erdogan is swayed, it will be because of domestic politics, not American pressure or threats.