On sunday, after a highly dubious referendum, turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proclaimed his victory over democracy and now rules turkey as the military dictator he always wanted to be. By suppressing all dissent, imprisoning opposition, journalists, attourneys and judges, controlling the media and riding on a wave of ultra nationalism, fear, hate, strong man politics and warmongering, he managed to persuade the turkish people to get rid of their freedom. US-President Donald Trump, "the leader of the free world", congratulated Erdogan for this victory against democracy and freedom and european leaders reaction has at best been mildly critical.
Democracy seems not to be held in high regard these days, as half the world is engaged in a conflict that is escalating just south of the turkish border in Syria. For the USA, Turkey, Europe, Russia, the Syrian Government, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, and other regional forces, the conflict in Syria is where it will be decided who's influence dominates the region in the future. All parties want to have a say in its outcome, while everybody is ostensibly fighting "terrorism". Who those terrorists are, is where all of the participants in this conflict differ, though all agree its those they are fighting. As always, the will of the people of Syria will most likely not have any influence on what is about to happen there.
For the USA, Syria is the keystone to diminishing Russian and Iranian influence in the region. Russia aims to keep or advance his influence and stop the growing US influence. Europeans blindly follow the US leadership and thus are being drawn into an cold war escalation with Russia, that brings Russia to ever closer bonds to China, that sees that as a good opportunity to further its own influence in the south china sea. Self proclaimed "Führer" Erdogan's interests seem almost modest in comparison.
For the Erdogan clan, the Syrian conflict provided ample opportunity to make money. As multiple US studies, journalists and whistle blowers confirmed, the Erdogan clan organizes the smuggling of Daesh/ISIS oil to turkish harbours, where it is sold to provide ISIS with the financial means to solidify the regime in the region they control, With this oil money ISIS is paying its soldiers and is buying weapons, that are also happily provided by turkey. Other than financial benefits, Erdogan probably wanted ISIS to get rid of the Kurds south of the turkish borders in return, but I will come back to this.
Russia had a large military presence in Syria for many years and relationships with the Syrian Dictator Assad have been good. Other than his ties with Russia, there is nothing that distinguishes Assad from any other brutal, fascist, military dictator in the region, like Mubarak, Al-Sisi, the Saud Family, Saddam Hussein, (the list goes on).
But as Assad was not "their" dictator, US intelligence started plotting the end of Assads regime, making use of "arab spring", funding dissident groups, spending millions to arm islamist rebels and generally doing the whole "regime change" thing.
As a result, Syria soon imploded into civil war. The democratic dissidents, that really had started the revolt, where quickly outgunned and pushed aside by sunni extremists, while the fear of an alleged threat of shiite terrorism or the Assad regimes repercussions, drove most moderates to join them. The US had spend hundreds of millions of dollars to form a unified secular, or at least moderate rebel front, but after a while, almost everybody that had been armed and trained by the US gravitated to one of the jihadist rebels, (Al Nusra, ISIS etc.).
During the upheavals, the Kurdish people of the Rojava region used the preoccupation of the Assad regime to do their own revolution. Following the ideology of former PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, the Kurds created an anarchist, feminist, ecologic, secular and socialist form of bottom up, self governance in their region. The Kurds also build an army, the YPG, and in comparison to any other syrian rebel force, they actually managed to beat ISIS.
To make a very long and complicated story short, the US finally came to understand that the only "feet on the ground" in syria, reliably not prone to immediate defection to ISIS, are the Kurds. The US could not openly support them though, as for Erdogan, they are the "terrorists" he had hoped the jihadists would Kill for him. So the USA did not want to provoke Erdogan by supporting Kurdish forces.
Despite of supporting ISIS to get rid of the Kurdish people for him, Erdogan is "Americas friend" and Turkey is the most important NATO partner of the US in the region, with its Incirlik Air Base the main base of operations for US air strikes.
It might sound ridiculus that international politics works that way, but there was a way out of the US predicament. As the Rojava region was the only stable region, arabs, jesidi christians and turks of the region also found refuge there, and many joined the YPG Forces. Thus the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were born, which is in fact YPG with another name and a few arabs in it. By not supporting YPG but SDF, the USA could now as openly not support the Kurds, as Turkey was not supporting jihadist terrorists.
Not all branches of the US administration are the same though. While the military is very much in favor of supporting the SDF, the state department is not. For the state department, defeating ISIS, is a very secondary objective. The main objective for the state department, as mentioned above, is to increase US influence and reduce Russian influence in the region. The US military on the other hand who are actually fighting ISIS want to win this war and be done with it.
The State department seems to believe (or has believed for some time?), that
what happened in the Kurdish Erbil region in Irak, could be possible in
Syria, namely that Rojava and Turkey can be "friends", just as Erbil and Turkey. I do not see
that happening. The state department likes to omit the Erdogan clans war
profiteering and turkeys support for jihadist terror. People that have been
terrorized by the IS remember that though. Making friends under these
circumstances will be difficult, to say the least.
This internal conflict of interest inside US authorities adds to the confusion, and results in the diplomats saying one thing, generals saying something else entirely and Donald Trump somehow echoing one or the other, probably whoever he spoke with last. I.e. Trump is congratulating Erdogan for his referendum, while the state department voices its concern about the "Führer" thing. Or, last year, John Kerry visits Turkey and promises them that the Kurds will retreat (across the euphrate) while US Generals on the ground promised to support the Kurds advance.
As the jihadists that Erdogan supported did not get the job done, Turkish President Erdogan last Summer took things into his own hands, and invaded Syria "to fight terrorism", of course. As we know who Erdogans terrorists are, the situation got very tricky now.
As an SDF soldier puts it in a Washington Post Interview recently: “We have taken prisoners who were trained by the United States, and the
Turks have prisoners of ours who were also trained by the United States”. As many ISIS fighters and Jihadists were also trained by the United States, I dont know why heads are only rolling in Syria and not in Washington too. It sounds to me like somebody really messed that up.
So who will the USA support in the future? Erdogan, the "Führer", who will probably go on a genocidal rampage as soon as the US protection for Rojava ends? Or the secular, anti islamist, feminist and democratic forces of the SDF, that at least make a real effort towards inclusion of all people in Syria?
I do think that much more than the fate of 2.5 million Kurds hinges on that decision.