Turkey’s Syrian venture is rapidly turning sour from President Erdogan’s point of view.
The Turkish advance into the northeast is moving slowly, but Turkey’s military options are becoming increasingly limited as the Syrian army, backed by Russia, moves into Kurdish-held cities and towns that might have been targeted by Turkish forces.
The U.S.-led military coalition succeeded in toppling the self-declared caliphate of the Islamic State, known as ISIS, in Iraq and Syria just this past March.
Remarkably, only around 2,000 U.S. troops took part in this effort, a tiny fraction of those deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan at the heights of those wars.
The key to success in Syria was that the United States worked “by, with, and through” local militia forces, namely the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), whose backbone was the Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
It is unlikely that Mr. Erdogan will risk-taking on Syrian government troops, even if they are thin on the ground if this involves quarreling with Russia.
In the seven days since he launched Operation Peace Spring, Turkey has become more diplomatically isolated than Ankara might have envisaged when President Trump appeared to greenlight its attack.
The reality is that ISIS and al Qaeda were enjoying a resurgence even before Trump’s withdrawal and the Turkish invasion—ISIS in eastern Syria and al Qaeda in the west of the country.
Now, with the United States headed for the exits, the Kurds battling Turkey, and the Assad regime and its backers focusing on other priorities, no force is left to counter an extremist revival.
Further conflict will only fuel radicalization, which will once again destabilize the region and pose threats to Israel, Europe, and even the United States.
Tragically, a few years from now, Syria will be right back where it was before the campaign against ISIS: suffering from chaos and conflict, with terrorism ascendant.
None of this was particularly secret and bands of al-Qaeda and Isis-linked Arab gunmen, which were under Turkish control, posted videos of themselves persecuting Kurds and looting their houses and shops.
Human rights groups confirmed and publicized the abuses of the Turkish-led occupation forces, but this appeared to have little impact on the wider world.
President Erdogan and Turkey are, for the moment at least, replacing President Bashar al-Assad and his regime as the leading international pariahs.
Mr. Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds was so blatant and public that it provoked a wave of sympathy for the Syrian Kurds that they had never enjoyed before.
In terms of domestic Turkish public opinion, the emphasis is still on Turkish military success, but, from now on, this will bring no political benefits to Mr. Erdogan. He must try to operate without allies and is being squeezed by the US and Russia.
Turkish troops and their Arab allies are still pushing forward, but Turkey has lost the diplomatic and propaganda wars. In the end, it will have no option but to declare a famous victory and retreat.
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