President Erdogan has just publicly shamed his American NATO ally by ‘exposing’ that the US has been supporting ISIS and other radical Islamist terrorist groups in Syria.
This is as revelatory as a recent declassified dossier revealing that the Pope is Catholic.
Clearly therefore, this is some sort of publicity stunt, but who is Erdogan’s intended audience and what point is he ultimately trying to make?
Like Stalin who killed some of his most capable political comrades, military leaders and scientists prior to the Great Patriotic War, Erdogan’s great purges have similarly left him isolated. By cleansing the political class, judiciary, military and police of many sensible, experienced and level headed Kemalist opponents, all that is left are those who are unintelligent but blindly loyal to Erdogan, in addition to Gulenist loyalists, and ISIS/Al-Qaeda sympathisers/agents, who are far more supine, and who are therefore harder to purge than a typical Kemalist.
Unlike Putin who rules through respect and straightforward political transparency (contrary to what the Western mainstream media say) Erdogan is often crass, vain and totally unpredictable.
In many ways he is worse than unpredictable, he is constantly changing his political tune, with such changes often coming hours apart.
Whilst publicly shaming America, as The Duran’s Alexander Mercouris reported, Erdogan is simultaneously trying to court the aid of the US Air Force in his face saving operation in Al-Bab. This comes in the aftermath of Turkish soldiers being slaughtered by ISIS, with two of them being burnt alive in an ISIS propaganda video.
To complicate matters further, since the liberation of Aleppo, Turkey’s goal in Syria has shifted from trying to defeat Kurdish YPG forces whilst simultaneously trying to overthrow the government in Damascus, to simply fighting YPG forces.
The trouble is that one of the few areas in recent Middle East policy making where the US and Russia have any common ground is over the Kurds.
In 1998 Abdullah Öcalan, a prominent leader in the PKK, travelled to Moscow to try to win Russian support for the Kurdish cause in Turkey. Whilst he met with many sympathetic people including Turkophile Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Russia ultimately cast Öcalan aside. One has to remember that Russia in 1998 was at her weakest point in history, whilst in 2016 Russia is arguably at her strongest in geopolitical terms since the death of Brezhnev.
However, many in Russia remain sympathetic to the Kurds, but so too do many in America who have half expected Kurdish forces in Iraq to fight the battle against ISIS that the Iraqi army is in many cases ill-prepared for, and which many in the American political class don’t particularly want to fight.
There is an added irony here that of all the states with a Kurdish minority, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq ended up being one of the most amenable to Kurdish autonomy, after Saddam Hussein more or less washed his hands of his long standing ‘Kurdish problem’.
In this sense Russia’s sympathy towards the Kurds is based on historic geopolitical conditions between Russia and the Turkish and Arab worlds which the Kurds inhabit, whilst for the US, the Kurds represent something of a well-trained and well-armed clean-up force which ideally will fix the mess the US has made in Iraq.
On the one hand, Turkey is politically committed to the Trilateral Peace Process in Syria whose senior partners are Russia and Iran, two consistent supporters of the legitimate government of Syria. Yet Turkey still wants American help in her ongoing ambitions in Syria which are far removed from the statements of respecting Syria’s territorial integrity that Turkey signed up to when forming the Trilateral group with Russia and Iran.
The US cannot afford more enemies let alone unwilling partners in the region. Like Ankara, Washington wants to have it both ways. The US wants Turkey as part of its anti-Assad coalition, but also wants to keep on good terms with the Kurds.
Similarly, Erdogan realises that Russia is ultimately a more honest and reliable partner than America, in spite of Turkey’s NATO membership.
Erdogan continues to blame this summer’s coup attempt on Gulenist forces, and by unambiguous extrapolation, he blames the US for granting Gulen asylum.
Russia by contrast tipped Erdogan off about the coup, possibly saving his Presidency if not his life.
Furthermore Russia was the first foreign power to unconditionally condemn the coup, one led by mid-level military personnel as opposed to the top brass military leadership responsible for Turkey’s previous modern coups.
The only conclusion to this multifaceted scenario is that so long as Turkey seeks to have political influence on her neighbours, Erdogan will eventually have to pick a side.
His contradictory positions cannot last forever, especially since many of his Islamist chickens have now come home to roost, with few strong patriotic Kemalists left to protect what remains of the traditional secular Turkish Republic.
Much too will depend on Donald Trump.
Trump may be so uninterested in the Turkish mess that he may take a hands off approach to the country with NATO’s second largest army but least consistent and most stubborn political leader. In that case Trump might ironically push Erdogan even closer to Russia by leaving him with no other practical option.
This is only augmented by the fact that Erdogan has a great deal of internal opposition ranging from Al-Qaeda style extremists and Gulenists on one side, to angry Kemalists and Europeanised youths on the other. Turkey’s Kurds who can relate with neither of the previous three are yet another internal issue.
How ironic that the fate of Turkey’s most peculiar cowboy is now partly in the hands of the US’s next leader, a man who is far more pragmatic than not only Erdogan but many of the NATO countries who have been fighting Turkey’s losing battle in Syria.