In a proxy war, the possibility exists that the nations involved “behind the scenes” can be made irrelevant. This especially can happen if the nation running the proxy is unwanted in the first place.
This fact has been the truth for the US forces in Syria ever since the Syrian Civil War began, and for the last few weeks, this fact has created a series of very tense situations and possible standoffs between the US and Russia (who IS wanted there), and between the US and Turkey, and even at one point, Russia and Turkey.
This last situation appears to be somewhat resolved, but the American forces supporting a faction of Kurdish fighters around the city of Afrin have really aroused the ire of the neighboring Turkish government.
Turkey’s president, Erdogan announced that the Turkish Army will encircle Syria’s Afrin in a mission to cast out the Kurdish forces. Turkey has been fighting the Kurds for decades, and so they do not care about crossing a sovereign border; they are going to get these people out of there, and that is all there is to it.
The Syrian government has, correctly, asserted sovereignty over the land in dispute, and some reports suggested that an agreement between the Kurds and the Syrian government had been reached, but so far, neither Turkey nor the Kurdish leadership have acknowledged such an agreement – in fact, both camps deny that it exists.
In fact, Ankara has threatened to face off against Syrian forces if they try to aid the Kurds.
And here sit the American forces as they try to execute and manage this proxy war.
For the American military forces, this situation presents a double-edged problem, at least. Turkey is an ally under NATO. The Kurds in this region have been supported by the Americans in the fight against ISIS, who is now gone from the Afrin region.
Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have been in bitter conflict for over thirty years, and Turkey is highly resentful of the Americans’ support of their enemy. Furthermore, the Americans are not wanted in Syria anyway by the Syrian government, and they have been at best, tolerated because of the minor efforts (and admittedly since Trump came into office, some major ones) made at getting ISIS defeated and destroyed.
But the real reason the American forces are there is bigger than settling a Middle East hotspot. This area is highly strategic in location, and American foreign policy heads want control over this region, through the existence of a Kurdish ally-state, most notably, if the Kurds can gain control of the city of Deir al-Zour, which is both a major city and a regional oil hub.
The Russians are said to have a strategic interest in Syria as well, for more or less similar reasons, plus one: Russia’s only military base outside the former Soviet Union’s territorial boundaries. This base has a superb strategic location since Syria itself is basically a crossroads from Eurasian nations to the Middle East.
But where Turkey and the US have been allied through most of the course of the Syrian conflict on the mutual grounds of trying to get rid of both the Assad government and ISIS, Turkey also holds that the PKK rebel opposition group is an enemy, which as stated earlier is a problem, because the USA is supporting this group. The PKK has been in a state of armed conflict with Turkey since 1984, with the goal of winning for itself its own state originally, but the current war has reignited this hope, and Turkey does not like that at all.
Russia Today reported that political analyst Chris Bambery sees a change of alignment in the Middle East, and that “America is looking a bit more sidelined than it used to be in the past.” Mr. Bambery, admittedly is a pretty far left, socialist, Marxist aligned guy, so his analysis is not likely to give a pro-American skew. However, though it seems this assessment is a bit early, it is also potentially the direction things will go, as he continues:
I think Washington will be watching this with some trepidation. Because what we are seeing here is a realignment of Turkey, Iran and Russia. And the Americans are already angry with Turkey and Erdogan for supplying loans to Iran… Also, I think they are worried there could be a bigger shift here. Thus far America and the Kurds have been allied in the fight against so-called Islamic State. We’ve had the Russian intervening on the side of Assad and the Turks intervening against the Kurds. Now we are seeing another mix. It could well be that joining this Iranian-Russian-Turkish axis is Assad.”
Marxism and socialist views aside, this is a point worthy of consideration. Again, for the USA, this is a proxy war mostly at this point, and the question, especially since ISIS has been largely eliminated from Syrian lands, remains, ‘What are the Americans doing here?’
However there is also a case for taking a skeptical view on this matter. Further comment to the RT newspiece was given by a military analyst named Kamal Alam, from the Royal United Services Institute, or RUSI, offered this comment on the situation:
The Syrian Kurds asked the Syrian government for a help a week ago. And the Syrian government themselves has said that it is a sovereign territory and it’s only their forces that should be operating there, no non-state actors. If the Syrian military go through and they’re back in control of the area, that means Turkey has no legitimacy to remain in the area and will have to withdraw back to the Turkish borders…
“Essentially the Americans have been saying that they are present in Northern Syria to help the SDF and Syrian Kurds fight against the terrorists. But there are no more ISIS in that area. And if the Syrian government moves in, the US have to move out.”
The comment seems astute enough, but a bit of cross-checking reveals also a heavy left-wing lean to Mr. Alam as well, for he is listed prominently among authors who contribute to opendemocracy.org, which is a George Soros organization, and part of the overall Open Society group of associations supported by him.
While these assertions may prove accurate, at this point it is hard to tell if this is analysis that will play out in reality or if it is hopeful speculation. Where Soros’ hands are, there is discord, and although there is a place for every opinion to be useful, this situation is more likely than not to move very slowly, if at all. Chances are actually high that given the nature of this commentary, the powers that be will find some other less exciting solution than either war or the removal of the Americans from that part of Syria.
What is true though, is that the nature of this conflict as a proxy war means that it is possible to analyze and speculate about it an an almost unlimited number of ways. The sad thing is that while this goes on, people fight, and kill, and die, for no actual good cause.