In the aftermath of the Astana Memorandum and its subsequent implementation, Turkey finds itself in a precarious position. This awkward position is entirely of Turkey’s own making. Rather than staying fully out of the Syrian conflict, let alone choosing one side and sticking to it, Turkey has managed to be on several sides simultaneously.
–Militarily, Turkey is fighting the Syrian government using both its own troops and its terrorist proxy FSA
–Militarily, Turkey is also fighting the Kurds who in turn are fighting jihadists, including the Turkish backed FSA
–Politically, Turkey is part of the effectively Russian led Astana Peace Talks, thereby partly bringing Turkey into Russia’s political orbit in the region
–Politically and militarily, Turkey is a member of NATO and technically a long term US ally, though one increasingly at odds with the US, particularly over America’s support for Kurdish fighters in Syria.
The aforementioned list is filled with more contradictions than drinking to get sober, but that’s where Turkey is under President Erdogan. Where does Turkey go from here?
Here are three possible directions.
1. Continuing to Fight A Losing Battle
Turkey clearly has no reservations about violating international law. Turkey’s invasion and occupation of Syria is manifestly illegal and totally immoral. The same goes for all other countries operating in Syria with the exceptions of Russia and Iran. Likewise, Hezbollah fighters have been invited by Damascus, though no other non-governmental fighters have been.
There is every possibility that Turkey will continue to illegally push further into Syria, even in the aftermath of the Astana Memorandum creating so-called de-escalation zones.
If Turkey does this, it will mean that little has changed in the regions of Syria that Turkey has and continues to molest.
This however would not mean that the Astana Memorandum is a failure. The Astana Memorandum ought to be understood as a political document designed to force Turkey into a corner, isolate the United States from having a meaningful negative role in the conflict and simultaneous to that, isolating the Gulf from its NATO allies.
In this sense, the Memorandum is all ready partly a success. The political balance of power has shifted away from Syria’s enemies and towards a Russian dominated settlement. Because Russia is genuine when it says that only Syria can determine its own political destiny, this new geo-political alignment of power works in the favour of a sovereign Syria.
Turkey can continue to engage in battles and skirmishes in Syria, but unless Turkey wants to be bogged down in a war with Syria for years to come, it will be a war that Turkey will have to back away from either sooner or later.
Furthermore, the Turkish public are quickly losing any appetite for foreign war, especially in the Arab world. If Erdogan continues with his obstinate mindset, it may be his undoing on the domestic front.
2. Finding New (old) Enemies
If Turkey wants to remain a serious member of the Astana Group and all ready Syria does not take Turkey seriously and fellow Astana member Iran has its deep suspicious (as does Russia in private), Turkey ought to refrain from interfering militarily in Syria. Turkey according to this scenario, should also refrain from making any unilateral political statements. It is almost certain that audacious statements will be made at home, but the Turkish government ought to restrain itself from such remarks when the ears of the world are listening.
Under this scenario Turkey would concentrate only on fighting Kurdish forces. This also necessarily implies that Turkey would come to loggerheads with the US. Such things are all ready manifesting themselves.
If Turkey insists on achieving something in Syria but does not want to alienate itself from the Russian dominated peace process, it could indeed focus entirely on the Kurdish question. This however could mean trading the US for Russia in terms of a kind of ‘ally’. Would Turkey be willing to do this? There are certain signs indicating that Turkey has all ready prepared to do so, certainly in terms of trade.
3. Peace With Honour
This is a phrase coined by Richard Nixon to imply ‘retreat while saving face’. Although Erdogan has had ample time to take advantage of many easy exit roots from the Syrian conflict, most of them laid out by Russia, Erdgoan has thus far not taken advantage of any of these.
With Syria winning the war on the ground against terrorists, including those backed by Turkey and America digging in along side the Kurds, this would be the most practical option for Turkey.
By signing up to the Astana agreement, Turkey would be allowed to have the honour of having its name on a political settlement that many understand as meaningful. This would give Turkey the de-facto prestige that Erdogan’s ego craves.
The problem is that Erdogan is not a practical man. He is ambitious and driven by ego and fanaticism. That being said, even a broken clock is correct twice a day. Erdogan only needs to be correct once to absolve himself of his crimes.
Russia nor America will ever see him prosecuted for his crimes against humanity. He ought to count his blessings and take this option as soon as possible.