sudden decision by President Trump to endorse Turkey’s move to send its troops
into Syria and pull out most of the American forces posted there seems to have
shocked the country’s political and military establishment. American analysts
and policymakers see events of the past week as largely benefiting Russia, the
Syrian government, the remnants of the Islamic State and Iran.
the great clamour of commentary, the United States and Europe are erroneously
banking on sanctions on Turkey to contain the fallout. The harsh truth is that
the United States, Europe and Turkey share responsibility for the creation of
this crisis. They have all made a series of policy mistakes since the beginning
of the Syrian war in 2011.
the United States, the main failure was to naïvely believe that the partnership
established with the People’s Protection Units, or the Y.P.G. — an organic
offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or the P.K.K., which is
considered by Ankara, Washington and
Brussels to be a terrorist group — could be long-lived. Oblivious to the huge
and negative impact of this commitment on bilateral ties with Turkey, the White
House followed the Pentagon’s recommendation based on its an assessment that
the Turkish counteroffer, of a group of Syrian opposition fighters trained by
both Turkey and the C.I.A., would be inadequate to carry the fight against the
Turks never came to terms with the United States siding so clearly with a group
they consider to be a core national security threat. And American support for
the Y.P.G. pushed it toward a perilous overreach. Kurds constitute about 10
percent of Syria’s population but with American support, they came to control
almost one-third of its territory.
big mistake was betting on radical and Islamist elements of the opposition,
such as the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front and the Tawhid Brigade, to achieve
its goal of ousting Syria’s president, Bashir al-Assad. Ankara was less
zealous, at least initially, than its partners in the West to join the
coalition against the Islamic State, because jihadists were also fighting
against Mr. al-Assad, along with other Syrian opposition groups.
biggest failure was outsourcing its Syrian refugee policy to Turkey. Despite
auspicious beginnings in March 2016, the refugee deal between Turkey and the
European Union came under severe strain following a downturn in the Turkish
economy. Turkey has been hosting about 3.6 million Syrians, with only about
100,000 living in camps close to the Syria border. The majority are in Turkish
towns and cities.
unemployment rate rose to 13 percent, Turks in disadvantaged areas increasingly
came to see the refugees as competing for their jobs and government resources.
The rising anti-refugee sentiment played out in the municipal elections earlier
in the year and contributed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and
Development Party losing control of Istanbul and Ankara.
continuing resistance to a substantive resettlement program for Syrian migrants
has created the political conditions for Mr. Erdogan’s government to seek
another solution to this urgent problem. Ankara is justifying its cross-border
operation into northern Syria as partly motivated by its desire to set up a
safe zone, where at least a million Syrian refugees can be resettled.
such a political backdrop, American and European sanctions on Turkey will only
backfire. They will be perceived as a reactive measure by Europe and the United
States to penalize Turkey for unsettling the American plan to retain influence
in the Middle East through its partnership with the Y.P.G. Sanctions could also
decouple Turkey from the Western geostrategic orbit by weakening its allegiance
to NATO — and accelerate its drift toward Russia and away from democratic
and the West need each other to influence the future of Syria. The United
States and Europe need to shun the idea of sanctions and follow a results-oriented policy with
Ankara. Sanctions will cost the United States and Europe the ability to work with
the only NATO nation bordering Syria. It will have ill-fated consequences for a
lasting and sustainable settlement of the refugee problem and a more effective
counterterrorism policy to address the challenge of the remaining foreign
fighters in Syria.
Turkey will lose the ability to leverage the support of its Western partners
for its regional objectives. Turkey will be politically and diplomatically
isolated in the negotiations for a political settlement in Syria, where Russia
and Iran will play a major role.
has already emerged as the most powerful piece on the Syrian chessboard. Moscow
rapidly facilitated a deal between Mr. al-Assad’s regime and the Y.P.G., which
allowed the Syrian Army — for the first time since 2012 — to take control of significant
towns such as Manbij in northern Syria, which had been controlled by the Y.P.G.
outcome is perfectly in line with Russia’s envisaged endgame — to ensure that
Mr. al-Assad extends territorial control to all of Syria. And in the meantime,
Moscow intends to force Turkey to reconcile with Mr. al-Assad.
of sanctions, the United States and Europe need to devise a mutually agreed
plan of action with Ankara that would incorporate three major elements. First,
they need to acknowledge that the policy of support to the Y.P.G. has ended; no
long-term constructive engagement with Turkey can work otherwise.
Turkey, the United States and Europe should restart a strategic dialogue to
foster a common approach to the constitutional order and security arrangements
for a new Syria. Otherwise, Moscow and Tehran will be in increasingly strong
positions to reshape the regional order.
third, Turkey’s Western partners should encourage Ankara to return to an agenda of domestic
political reforms, which would also tackle the country’s longstanding conflict
with the Kurds.
to the Western policy of arming the Y.P.G. and ensuring that north-eastern
Syria will not be used as a zone to challenge Turkish national security will
create the right conditions for Turkey to overhaul its ailing political system
and expand the sphere of liberties.
Sinan Ulgen is the chairman of the
Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies and a visiting scholar at
Original Headline: The Way
Forward in Syria
The New York Times