With Erdogan’s decision to invade Syrian Kurdistan serving to raise his popularity across Turkey, there is an increasing chance that his march towards Manbij, which serves as the epicenter for US forces in the region may very well bring Turkish forces into direct conflict with the USA.
This appears to be of no concern to Erdogan as the Syria conflict spirals further out of control. With the US and Russia consolidating their proxy territories, Erdogan’s bid to push out the Kurds is in fact much more than a simple power play. The ground in Syria is still shifting and if there is ever a chance that the neo-Otoman empire Erdogan promised his supporters will arise, now seems to be the most opportune moment to implement it.
With the US forces in Manbij squarely behind the Kurdish majority SDF it is hard to see a peaceful way out of the approaching conflict. If Turkey hits Manbij hard and harms US forces there, it won’t be the SDF Turkey will have to deal with, it will be the US itself. Of course, this is Erdogan’s drive, to create as much chaos as possible and capitalize on it.
Russia Staying Out and Playing Both Sides Against One Another
Putin does not hide his hate for NATO’s desire to expand on Russia’s doorstep. A war between NATO allies no matter how limited will be a blow to NATO’s expansionist doctrine post Cold War. Yet, Putin has a bit of a dilemma since he too is materially invested in the proto-Kurdistan now forming in both Syria and Iraq. Expect Russia to back the Kurds while pushing Turkey and the US into a direct conflict.
With the stakes being high for all the actors, war is almost inevitable. The only question is the scope and collateral damage.
With Turkey at a standstill against the Syrian Kurds and the US and Russia in a race to build up their bases within their respective proxy areas, Syria has become defacto split along sectarian lines. Assad and his battered army control the coast and South, while the Kurds along with their Sunni Arab allies control the North and Northeast.
The stage is set for a Kurdish-Sunni state in the heart of Syria. This is a further disintegration of the colonial borders drawn after World War One and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Of course, Erdogan also wants a collapse of these borders, but his goal is a resurrection of the Ottoman Empire. With the Kurds armed to the teeth and backed by American special forces and weaponry, he will have a hard to following through with his goal. Yet, his entry into Syria is an unknown that can upend the quiet stability that has formed after the destruction of ISIS.
Currently the Allawites have been happy just to survive even if the price has been to become a Russian vassal. Russia, for its part just wants to retain its hold on its Syrian basins and have a strategic ability to push back on the West whenever the Donbass in Ukraine feels Kiev’s heat. With this in mind, Russia has turned the other way while the Kurds on the otherwise of the Euphrates have successfully built a proto-state.
The real losers in Syria’s disintegration have ironically been Iran and Turkey. Iran, was hoping to use the chaos to move in next to Israel, but the Kurdish controlled area has cut down on their land bridge, while Israel’s ability to attack Iranian positions in Syria have remained unshackled.
Turkey’s invasion into Syrian Kurdistan has exposed Erdogan as a paranoid autocrat that is fearful of rising Kurdish influence throughout Syria and Iraq. Yet ironically, his overextension may actually be the cause for the rise of an indpendent Kurdistan, thus dooming Turkey to former shadow of its current self.
Turkey senses it cannot afford to lose so expect it to go all out in Syria, while eventually the Iranians will make a serious push against US assets in the region. The real question is whether Russia will stay out of the coming conflict.