While Israel and much of official Washington remain focused on the deal President Barack Obama just cut with the ayatollahs that gives them $150 billion and a guaranteed nuclear arsenal within a decade, Obama has already moved on – to Syria.
Obama’s first hope was to reach a deal with his Iranian friends that would leave the Assad regime in place. But the Iranians blew him off.
They know they don’t need a deal with Obama to secure their interests. Obama will continue to help them to maintain their power base in Syria though Hezbollah and the remains of the Assad regime without a deal.
Iran’s cold shoulder didn’t stop Obama. He moved on to his Sunni friend Turkish President Recep Erdogan.
Like the Iranians, since the war broke out, Erdogan has played a central role in transforming what started out as a local uprising into a regional conflict between Sunni and Shiite jihadists.
With Obama’s full support, by late 2012 Erdogan had built an opposition dominated by his totalitarian allies in the Muslim Brotherhood.
By mid-2013, Erdogan’s Muslim Brotherhood- led coalition was eclipsed by al-Qaida spinoffs. They also enjoyed Turkish support.
And when last summer ISIS supplanted al-Qaida as the dominant Sunni jihadist force in Syria, it did so with Erdogan’s full backing. For the past 18 months, Turkey has been ISIS’s logistical, political and economic base.
According to Brett McGurk, the State Department’s point man on ISIS, about 25,000 foreign fighters have joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq. All of them transited through Turkey.
Most of the antiquities that ISIS plunders in Iraq and Syria make their way to the world market through Turkey. So, too, most of the oil that ISIS produces in Syria and Iraq is smuggled out through Turkey. According to the US Treasury, ISIS has made $1 million-$4m. a day from oil revenue.
In May, US commandos in Syria assassinated Abu Sayyaf, ISIS’s chief money manager, and arrested his wife and seized numerous computers and flash drives from his home. According to a report in The Guardian published last week, the drives provided hard evidence of official Turkish economic collusion with ISIS.
Due to Turkish support, ISIS has become a self-financing terrorist group. With its revenue stream it is able to maintain a welfare state regime, attracting recruits from abroad and securing the loyalty of local Sunni militias and former Ba’athist forces.
Some Western officials believed that after finding hard evidence of Turkish regime support for ISIS, NATO would finally change its relationship with Turkey. To a degree they were correct.
Last week, Obama cut a deal with Erdogan that changes the West’s relationship with Erdogan.
Instead of maintaining its current practice of balancing its support for Turkey with its support for the Kurds, under the agreement, the West ditches its support for the Kurds and transfers its support to Turkey exclusively.
The Kurdish peshmerga militias operating today in Iraq and Syria are the only military outfits making sustained progress in the war against ISIS. Since last October, the Kurds in Syria have liberated ISIS-controlled and -threatened areas along the Turkish border.
The YPG, the peshmerga militia in Syria, won its first major victory in January, when after a protracted, bloody battle, with US air support, it freed the Kurdish border town of Kobani from ISIS’s assault.
In June, the YPG scored a strategic victory against ISIS by taking control of Tal Abyad. Tal Abyad controls the road connecting ISIS’s capital of Raqqa with Turkey. By capturing Tal Abyad, the Kurds cut Raqqa’s supply lines.
Last month, Time magazine reported that the Turks reacted with hysteria to Tal Abyad’s capture.
Not only did the operation endanger Raqqa, it gave the Kurds territorial contiguity in Syria.
The YPG’s victories enhanced the Kurds’ standing among Western nations. Indeed, some British and American officials were quoted openly discussing the possibility of removing the PKK, the YPG’s Iraqi counterpart, from their official lists of terrorist organizations.
The YPG’s victories similarly enhanced the Kurds’ standing inside Turkey itself. In the June elections to the Turkish parliament, the Kurdish HDP party won 12 percent of the vote nationally, and so blocked Erdogan’s AKP party from winning a parliamentary majority.
Without that majority Erdogan’s plan of reforming the constitution to transform Turkey into a presidential republic and secure his dictatorship for the long run has been jeopardized.
As far as Erdogan was concerned, by the middle of July the Kurdish threat to his power had reached unacceptable levels.
Then two weeks ago the deck was miraculously reshuffled.
On July 20, young Kurdish activists convened in Suduc, a Kurdish town on the Turkish side of the border, 6 kilometers from Kobani. A suicide bomber walked up to them, and detonated, massacring 32 people.
Turkish officials claim that the bomber was a Turkish Kurd, and a member of ISIS. But the Kurds didn’t buy that line. Last week, HDP lawmakers accused the regime of complicity with the bomber. And two days after the attack, militants from the PKK killed two Turkish policemen in a neighboring village, claiming that they collaborated with ISIS.
After refusing for months to work with NATO forces in their anti-ISIS operations, Erdogan announced he was entering the fray. He would begin targeting “terrorists” and allow the US air force to use two Turkish air bases for its anti-ISIS operations. In exchange, the US agreed to set up a “safe zone” in Syria along the Turkish border.
Turkish officials were quick to explain that in targeting “terrorists,” the Turks would not distinguish between Kurdish terrorists and ISIS terrorists just because the former are fighting ISIS. Both, they insisted, are legitimate targets.
Erdogan closed his deal in a telephone call with Obama. And he immediately went into action.
Turkish forces began bombing terrorist targets and rounding up terrorist suspects. Although a few of the Turkish bombing runs have been directly against ISIS, the vast majority have targeted Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria.
Moreover, for every suspected ISIS terrorist arrested by Turkish security forces, at least eight Kurds have been taken into custody.
Then, too, Erdogan has called on AKP lawmakers to begin criminalizing their counterparts from the HDP. Kurdish lawmakers, he urged them, must be stripped of their parliamentary immunity to enable their arrests.
As Erdogan apparently sees things, by going to war against the Kurds, he will be able to reestablish the AKP’s parliamentary majority. Within a few weeks, if the AKP fails to form a governing coalition – and it will – then new elections will be held. The nationalists, who abandoned the AKP in June, will return to the party to reward Erdogan for fighting the Kurds.
As for that “safe area” in northern Syria, as the Kurds see it, Erdogan will use it to destroy Kurdish autonomy. He will flood the zone with Syrian Arab refugees who fled to Turkey, to dilute the Kurdish majority. And he will secure coalition support for the Sunni Arab militias – including those still affiliated with al-Qaida – which will be permitted by NATO to operate openly in the safe area.
Already the Kurds are reporting that the US has stopped providing air support for their forces fighting ISIS in the border town of Jarablus. Those forces were bombed this week by Turkish F-16s.
For their part, despite Erdogan’s pledge to fight ISIS, his forces seem remarkably uninterested in rolling back ISIS achievements. The Turks have no plan for removing ISIS from its strongholds in Raqqa or Haskiyah.
The Obama administration is presenting the deal with Turkey as yet another great achievement.
In an interview with Charlie Rose on Tuesday, McGurk explained that the deal was a long time in the making. It began with a phone conversation between Obama and Erdogan last October and it ended with their phone call last week.
In October, Obama convinced Erdogan not to oppose US air support for the Kurds in Kobani and to enable the US to resupply YPG fighters in Kobani through Turkey. In the second, Obama agreed not to oppose Erdogan’s offensive against the Kurds.
Two years ago, in August 2013, the world held its breath awaiting US action in Syria. That month, after prolonged equivocation amidst mountains of evidence, the Obama administration was forced to acknowledge that Iran’s Syrian puppet Bashar Assad had crossed Obama’s self-declared redline and used chemical weapons against regime opponents, including civilians.
US forces assembled for battle. Everything looked ready to go, until just hours before US jets were scheduled to begin bombing regime targets, Obama canceled the operation. In so doing, he lost all deterrent power against Iran. He also lost all strategic credibility among America’s regional allies.
To save face, Obama agreed to a Russian proposal to have international monitors remove Syria’s chemical weapons from the country.
Last summer, the administration proudly announced that the mission had been completed.
UN chemical weapons monitors had removed Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal from the country, they proclaimed. It didn’t matter to either Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry that by that point Assad had resumed chemical assaults with chlorine-based bombs. Chlorine bombs weren’t chemical weapons, the Americans idiotically proclaimed.
Then last week, the lie fell apart. The Wall Street Journal reported that according to US intelligence agencies, Assad not surrendered his chemical arsenal.
Rather, he hid much of his chemical weaponry from the UN inspectors. He had even managed to retain the capacity to make chemical weapons – like chlorine-based bombs – after agreeing to part with his chemical arsenal.
Assad was able to cheat, because just as the administration’s nuclear deal with the Iranians gives Iran control over which nuclear sites will be open to UN inspectors, and which will be off limits, so the chemical deal gave Assad control over what the inspectors would and would not be allowed to see. So, they saw only what he showed them.
Obama has gone full circle in concluding his deal with Erdogan. Since entering office, Obama has sought to cut deals with both the Sunni jihadists of the Muslim Brotherhood ilk and the Shi’ite jihadists of the Iranian ilk.
His chemical deal with Assad and his nuclear deal with the ayatollahs accomplished the latter goal, and did so at the expense of America’s Sunni Arab allies and Israel.
His deal last week with Erdogan accomplishes the former goal, to the benefit of ISIS, and on the backs of America’s Kurdish allies.
So that takes care of the Middle East. With 17 months left to go till Obama leave office, the time has apparently come for the British to begin to worry.
Reprinted with author’s permission from The Jerusalem Post