Turkish Domestic Politics Analysis and Forecast

Erdoğan got Trump’s backing: Turkish troops are heading for Syria

Turkish National Defense Ministry shared photos of maneuvering tanks near the Syrian border.

The parliament has extended on October 8 the use of military troops abroad for another year: there is no obstacle left to send Turkish soldiers into Syria to take the border zones between Euphrates and Tigris rivers to clear the region from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) affiliated militia. Another aim is to return some of 3.6 million Syrian refugees back to their home, also building new homes for them in a “Safe Zone”. The operation, titled “Fountain of Peace” aims to put in place the safe zone Turkey has talked about for years.
It’s a serious matter: this is war. It’s against the PKK but will take place on Syrian territory. Should the PKK release the ISIS militants they imprisoned, new security threats will emerge and will affect Turkey too.
Keeping in mind the words of Turkey’s founder Atatürk that any war that is not about self-defence is murder, it should be noted that no Turkish government could sit and watch what the PKK has been doing next to its border for the last five years thanks to its cooperation with the U.S., whether it be against ISIS.
The war will take place in Syrian territory but the Syrian government, already in ruins from the civil war, has no control over it. Syria’s supporter Russia, on the other hand, “understands” Turkey’s security concerns along its borders on the condition of Turkey’s respect to Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty rights; that means will not stay there forever.
It’s not a joke; it’s a war and it’s pressing.

Erdoğan got what he wanted from Trump, but…

The U.S. (or rather president Trump) managed to extend some meagre support for Turkey on this issue.
Trump’s indirect support for Turkey’s incursion into Syria against the PKK on October 6 and his open support on October 8, as he invited Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan to Washington on November 13 seem to be in line. Some of the U.S. President’s rather provocative tweets like “devastating” Turkey’s economy if they “attack the Kurds” have outrage everyone in Ankara. But as long as we consider these outbursts, not in the context of international politics, but the context of American domestic politics, the jigsaw falls into place.
The really surprising aspect of Trump’s recent speech is about the F-35 issue. It’s well known that the U.S. Secretary of Defense had started the procedure to “unwind” Turkey from the F-35 project to which they were production partners, due to Turkey’s purchase of Russia S-400 missiles. Trump, however, defined Turkey as an important NATO ally that produced the steel frame of the F-35s.
But right after that series of tweets by Trump, Republican Senator Lidnsey Graham literally shelled Turkey: “If Turkey moves into northern Syria, sanctions from hell –by congress- will follow. Wide, deep and devastating sanctions.” In order to think that such threats would deter not only Erdoğan’s Justice and development Party (AKP) government, but any other government in Turkey as the die is cast, needs poor knowledge about Turkey, if not a pure domestic political move.

The PKK, s-400s and F-35s: all in one?

There is a new, probable scenario at hand. Driving the PKK away from the Turkish borders, after the U.S. has used them as mercenaries for five years, while Turkey stays in the F-35 project and takes Patriots on top of the Russian S-400s. This is the scenario where Erdoğan reaches most of his declared targets. To get there, he perhaps gave his word to the Russian head of state Vladimir Putin (and to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani) that he’s given up on overthrowing Syria’s head of state Bashar al-Assad. He might have also made some trade promises to Trump. But in the end, diplomacy is about mutual compromise.
There is a subtext, of course. The American media, for example, was aware that it wouldn’t be easy to thrust Turkey out of the F-35 project since day one; it was already delaying and had soared in cost. Turkey’s closer relation to Russia following the purchase of the S-400s, which are superior to the U.S.’s Patriots, and Erdoğan’s further interest in the Russian Su-35s must have unsettled the U.S.
How do we understand this?

Something stirring in Washington DC

Michael Doran from the Hudson Institute, a research agency in line with the Republican Party, posted a tweet on October 7. Meanwhile, Trump’s Syria statement was wreaking havoc in Washington; Republicans and well as Democrats insisted that they shouldn’t let the Kurds down as they had fought on their side. This attitude was, in a way, a reference to the countless times where the U.S. used the Kurds for their interest in the Middle-East, only to let them down once they no longer needed them; since the end of the Second World War.
Here is, on the other hand, what Doran had to say about the issue: “We aligned under Obama not with ‘the Kurds,’ but with the PKK, the sworn enemy of the Turkish Republic, our ally. We were sowing the seeds of a Turkish-PKK war with that policy. We were also driving Turkey toward Russia”. The importance in this particular researcher making such a claim lies in the fact that Trump “retweeted” the post making this statement.
This was the message that turkey had grown weary in trying to deliver, for the last five years.

People seeing a new Israel in a possible Kurdish state?

Moreover, an October 7 “special news story” published on Newsweek contained citations from an anonymous National Security Council (NSC) authority. This unnamed officer claims to have firsthand knowledge of the October 6 phone call between Trump and Erdoğan. This officer who harshly criticized Trump’s green light for Turkey’s Syrian move said the following, according to Newsweek:
“To be honest with you, it would be better for the United States to support a Kurdish nation across Turkey, Syria and Iraq. It would be another Israel in the region.”
If anyone in Turkey had said this, they would be stamped as a conspiracy theorist. But it looks like this thesis was being seriously thought of and discussed by certain people in the White House; we’re finding it out thanks to Newsweek.
A change in Trump’s Syria policy, after he’s forced his National Security Advisor John Bolton to resign, was something expected. Bolton, who was one of the neo-con hawks of the Bush government was considered among the pro-Israel decision-makers in Washington.

Can Trump be trusted?

Trump, in his last statement, was obstructively praising “the Kurds” to whom they “gave guns and money” and advising the Turkish soldiers not to attack them unless it was for self-defence. This looks like a move to soothe the Republicans in Congress. Trump shows Congress that he hurts Turkey on purpose. He even implied that Pastor Brunson was released by Erdoğan because he wanted to, despite the court’s ruling.
Trump’s hairpin turns and outbursts that sometimes give the impression that he’s lost his mind have no end.
His claims that relieved Erdoğan weren’t made because he loves Erdoğan or Turkey very much. He sticks with his “America First” slogan, so he does what he is doing because he believes they’re in the U.S.’s interest. That’s why we must consider that he might change his mind later on. And we must consider the emphasis he put on Turkey as the U.S.’s trading partner and the target of increasing the trading volume between the countries from ﹩20 billion to ﹩100 billion.
This was the atmosphere as Turkish troops was getting prepared to get into Syria for their third and the biggest military campaign in the last three years.

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