Turkey mounted on Wednesday its largest military effort yet in the Syrian conflict, sending tanks, warplanes and special operations forces over the border in a United States-backed drive to capture an Islamic State stronghold in Syria.
The offensive on the city of Jarabulus began hours before Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was set to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara to discuss tensions raised by the failed coup in Turkey last month. The joint operation in Syria seemed intended to send a message that the countries are still cooperating in the fight against the militant group.
Turkey has long wanted to support rebels trying to overthrow Assad while resisting American pressure to get Turkey to join in the war against ISIL--which includes Syrian Kurds who are not welcome additions as far as Turkey is concerned.
Early in the year, it seemed that Turkey would intervene to help those anti-Assad rebels.
And now Turkey invades to focus on ISIL. Is this an example of our diplomacy bearing fruit?
I highly doubt that is the case. The new Turkish focus on ISIL likely is related to warmer relations with Russia which has long tried to save Assad by peeling away anti-Assad forces to the anti-ISIL fight.
So, no, I don't think this is not an example of Smart Diplomacy.
Although I suppose Turkey could be using an anti-ISIL operation with the blessing of the Russians to get their foot in the door. Then, Turkey could support other rebels.
In the long run, I don't worry about a Turkish-Russian alliance. But in the short run, Assad could win his civil war and survive it.
And as an aside, just how will the Turks justify their "disproportionate" response to a few terrorists planting bombs inside Turkey?
MORE: Let me add a pre-publication update to this scheduled post.
Stratfor writes that the Turkish move is small (even if it is Turkey's largest operation to date) and that Turkey has not aligned with Russia's goal of supporting Assad. In fact, the move really is in coordination with America.
So I'm wrong about my speculation that Turkey's move into Syria was more aligned with Russia--even if I thought a second stage could be more anti-Assad.
Now it seems that we agreed to let Turkey prevent the Kurds from linking up their eastern territories with Kurds to the west; and we warned the Kurds to pull back from the Turkish move.
I still don't think this is Smart Diplomacy, since we are going along with a Turkish objective of setting the Kurds back.
That American support might be the price of Turkish permission for American forces to use Turkish bases against ISIL [oops, I originally typed "Assad"].
Do read it all. Basically it argues that both Turkey and Iran need America to balance Russian ambitions. I agree. In the long run.
So Turkey won't stray too far even if it does damage to us.
As for Iran, such an American-Iran partnership is certainly possible. So President Obama is not completely delusional on this long-term factor pushing us together.
However, as long as nutball mullahs run Iran there is no way that the long-term forces pushing us together can bear fruit unless we wish to go along with whatever the nutball Iranian mullahs want to do.
Would we really pledge to defend nutball mullahs with American troop lives in a confrontation with Russia over nutball Iran? And will our other allies tolerate American support for Iran which goes after them, too? And the whole terrorism support thing?
But for Turkey, which is in NATO, we can afford to go along with a minor Turkish move into Syria that is directed more at the Kurds in order to keep Turkey onboard in the short run to deflect Russian efforts to gain ground in the Black Sea/eastern Mediterranean region by loosening our ties to Turkey.
[I thought I'd leave the original post as is and add the new information as a separate piece rather than rewrite the post based on better information just so you can see my thinking process--right or wrong--as I read the news, which at the time I wrote the original post focused on ISIL without bringing in the Kurdish angle. I knew that region was an objective for the Kurds which Turkey opposed--but the reporting was that the Turkish move was anti-ISIL in motivation and larger than it turned out to be.]
UPDATE: The Turks muddy the waters on who they are working with:
President Tayyip Erdogan and senior government officials have made clear the aim of "Operation Euphrates Shield" is as much about stopping the Kurdish YPG militia seizing territory and filling the void left by Islamic State as about eliminating the radical Islamist group itself.
So this can't be just working with America against ISIL. We back the Kurds who fight ISIL.
Turkey sees ISIL as both a threat and a tool against Assad, but sees Syrian Kurds as a problem to be tolerated because America sees Kurds as an asset against ISIL.
Russia wants to save Assad by getting everyone to focus on ISIL, which would leave the Kurds all alone once the Arab rebels are defeated.
America in theory is against Assad and ISIL and walks a tightrope with Kurds who are effective in Iraq and Syria but whose independence ambitions run counter to what our allies affected want (nor does Iran want that).
So Turkey's motives are conflicted, I suppose.
UPDATE: Strategypage characterizes this Turkish operation as an Iran victory. And hence an Assad and Russian victory, of course. Do read it all. I'm starting to downgrade the Stratfor interpretation and lean more on my initial impression.
That America went along with the Turkish operations by siding with Turkey over the Kurds is just an example of "following from behind."
And ponder that we sided with Turkey to push Kurds out of non-Kurdish areas at the border and limit the Syrian Kurds to positions east of the Euphrates River.
I've long noted that we can hardly count on the Kurds to be the main force against our enemies--whether ISIL or Assad (is he still our foe?)--because the Kurds are hardly willing to sacrifice a lot to move out of their traditional territory. They fight with us as long as our interests coincide.
But if we won't let the Kurds move into Arab territory to link up with Kurds in the Syrian northwest, why would the Kurds advance beyond their own regions to fight our enemies?
Also, this may explain our recent use of fighter aircraft to help protect Kurdish forces in the northeast from Syrian air power. We wanted to take some of the sting out of the Turkish northern operation and our siding with the Turks against the Kurds there.