The Trump administration’s policy in Syria was always confused, but now it is beginning to appear downright incoherent.
The Untied States heeded recent Kurdish requests for increased support and consequently plans to heavily arm the Kurdish YPG forces which comprise the core of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SFD).
The announcement came as US Defence Secretary James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis was in Copenhagen meeting with Turkish officials whom Mattis said were also US allies.
The reality is that one cannot be a military ally of both Turkey and Kurdish forces. Turkey and Kurdish forces are not only enemies with clearly opposing agendas in both Syria and in Turkey, but they are enemies whose historic animosity long predates the still raging Syria conflict which was ignited in 2011.
When both Iraq and Syria were peaceful, the US could just about get away with harbouring Kurdish sympathies while being an ally of fellow NATO member Turkey. However, now that Turkey’s internal political problems with Kurdish separatists have turned into a hot war fought on Syrian territory, the US juggling act is becoming increasingly awkward if not impossible.
This is not to say that Russia hasn’t been in an awkward position in Syria vis-a-vis Turkey. However, the Russian position is far clearer than that of the US. Russia is a partner in the war against terrorism with Syria and its Iranian ally. Russia however, has made it clear that it wants no part in determining Syria’s political future.
Russia has consistently said that such matters are up to the Syrian people alone and that until such decisions are made, the world must respect Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Russia deeply regrets Turkey’s aggression towards Syria. Russia’s policy towards Turkey in Syria is best defined as a series of attempts to bring Turkey into a political process that could ideally nullify or restrain its ambitions in the country. Short of that, Russia seeks to avoid open confrontation with Turkey, preferring to de-escalate any would be conflict that the Turks are seemingly hellbent on creating.
Bringing Turkey into the Astana Peace Process is one such way that Russia has attempted to contain Turkey’s ambitions. The success of this has yet to be fully determined.
Russia’s position on the Kurdish issue in Syria has been one of congeniality, yet one which refuses to meddle in any political debates between Damascus and the Kurds. This is a wise move to say the least. As with all matters to do with Syria, Russia is clear that any future negotiations between Syrian Kurds and Damascus is an internal matter.
The US by contrast is openly arming Turkey’s number one enemy. This has led an adviser to Turkish President Erdogan to claim that Turkish missiles could ‘accidentally strike US forces’.
At some point the US will have to decide if Washington is a Kurdish or Turkish ally. It is becoming impossible to be both. It was always difficult in any case.