New Eastern Outlook
by Maxim Egorov
The roar of fighter jets taking off and the howl of bombs falling on Iraq and Syria cannot hide the fact that, despite the truly universal propaganda, the United States and the coalition it leads, now composed of nearly 50 countries, were able to achieve little, if anything, in military and political terms in their battle with the newly appeared builders of the caliphate.
The siege by the Islamic State of the key Kurdish village of Kobani (Arabic name – Ayn al-Arab) on the Syrian-Turkish border continues. Its capture will give the Islamic radicals control over virtually all of the Syrian-Turkish border. The city has not given up, part of it, as of October 10, is held by units of Kurdish Peshmerga militias, but the peaceful Kurdish population continues to flee to the Turkish territory in tens of thousands, where they are met by military cordons. On October 3 the Islamic fundamentalists beheaded another Englishman who had nothing at all to do with anything – an ordinary volunteer.
In a little while the whole world will start to laugh at the “terrifying” American Coalition, which mainly involves American weapons destroying American military equipment captured by ISIL in its battle with the Iraqi army. It is becoming obvious that this kind of military activity causes little damage to enemy troops and does not solve the problem, but mainly increases the income of American corporations, from which the Pentagon orders ammunition and weapons.
It is clear to any careful observer what the American military has been saying for a long time – without a ground operation decisive results cannot be achieved. The first signs that things are moving in this direction are already starting to float to the surface. Among them is the fact that on 2 October the Turkish parliament authorized the country’s troops to conduct operations on the territories of Syria and Iraq. The President, speaking in Parliament, emphasized that the main thing for Turkey is to destroy the regime of Bashar al-Assad. According to him, the current campaign should lead to a radical solution of the Syrian problem: “Turkey will not allow itself to be used by others (read Washington – according to the author) for half-hearted or temporary solutions” said President Erdogan. The intentions of the Turkish authorities are also made clear in the memorandum that the government has submitted to parliament with a justification of the purposes of the invasion: “They will fight against terror manifested in ISIL, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and the Assad government.”
However, this has yet to happen. What prevents President Erdogan from giving the order, when he himself said, speaking to the deputies, that without Turkey “the alliance will not achieve anything”? The answer, according to numerous publications in the press, is that the bargaining between Ankara and Washington on the conditions of participation in the fighting is not over yet.
In exchange for its participation, Turkey wants to gain control over a buffer zone along the Syrian-Turkish border. Above it a no-fly zone must be established. Ankara is also seeking permission from Washington to ensure that it had a veto on the part of the Kurdistan Workers Party and its Syrian chapter, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, in the anti-terrorist operation.
The Turks fear, and rightfully so, that the present form of the operation against ISIL will strengthen the Kurdish factor and create a unified Kurdish area in Syria and Iraq. This zone will encompass Kurdish areas of Turkey as well, which will affect the internal stability of the country at least, if not generate a chain reaction for its collapse. Finally, we repeat the most important thing – Turkey is seeking from the United States promises that the next step would be the overthrow of Assad. Otherwise, the fight against ISIL will simply be a weakening of Turkey in the face of Iran and Syria.
In other words, the result is the exact opposite of the stated objectives. Put it another way, the ambitious President Erdogan needs Turkey, as a NATO member and a neighbour of Iraq and Syria, to play a key role in the coalition to ensure the desired geopolitical results. However, he cannot help but see that the United States is giving first place (after itself, of course) to its gulf Sunni allies, and is in no hurry to push Turkey to the forefront. Thus, as soon as the current coalition even formed, rivalry erupted between Ankara and rich monarchies of the Persian Gulf. And their goals do not always coincide, but are more often in conflict with each other, and it is difficult for the US to reconcile them.
It is obvious that Riyadh in this situation does not want to see Turkey among the leading coalition forces. Yes, the main objectives of the two states are the same – the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad and the suppression of ISIL. But that’s as far as it goes. The Saudi press vigorously recalls the historical “sins” of Turkey to the Arab world, the period of its dominion over vast areas of the Mashreq and part of the Persian Gulf, its current hegemonic ambitions, in particular, claims for a part of Syrian territory and Mosul in Iraq.
The main thing for the Saudi is that Turks today are the main sponsors of the “Muslim Brotherhood”, hated by Riyadh, which the UAE together with the Saudi monarchy vigorously uproots in its own territory, and in its immediate environment. Seeing the Association of the Muslim Brotherhood in power in Damascus would be a nightmare for the Saudi princes. Therefore, Riyadh does not want to allow the entry of Turkish troops into Syria or the organization of buffer and no-fly zones, which could become a springboard for an attack on Damascus. They would like to assign the role of “liberator” of Syria, as well as control over the so-called moderate Syrian opposition, to the United States and other NATO allies (not Turks), and they dream of someone else’s hands bringing to power Sunnis in Damascus, obedient and controlled by Riyadh.
In this regard the Saudi ruling family can rely on its new-found ally, Paris, which is willing to sell its soul to the devil for new military contracts, and it recently (after a visit to France by Crown Prince Salman in early September) obtained many from the Saudis.
President Hollande strongly supports Riyadh in the need to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, but is in rather strained relations with Ankara, which were spoiled back when the French strongly opposed the accession of Turkey to the EU. Paris also refrains from air strikes on Syrian territory.
Another country “lost” in the distribution of roles in the coalition is Qatar. By its position over the entire period of the “Arab revolutions” from 2010 to 2013 it was a reliable ally of Ankara in sponsoring the “Muslim Brotherhood” and other Islamic radicals, including ISIL. But the axis seems to be cracking due to the reluctance of Doha to look for trouble after its disastrous solo as leader of the Arab world during the “Arab Spring” and the enormous pressure from its allies in the GCC, led by Saudi Arabia, which demand from it a complete refusal to support the project of bringing its “brothers” to power in the Arab countries.
Qatar is bending, but not yet broken. Having expelled at the request of the country’s Saudis the “seven” leaders of the Association of Muslim Brothers (they left in September for Turkey), Prince Tamim kept under his protection the chief ideologist of the “Arab Troubles”, the preacher Youssef Qaradawi, though he no longer appears on television as before. But it is clear that the Qataris do not intend to take a leading role in the “anti-terror” coalition.
The United States is of course fully aware, with whom they are dealing. This is indicated by the statements of Vice President Joe Biden in the United States during his speech at Harvard University on October 2, where he explicitly reproached his “allies”, primarily Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, in the promiscuous sponsoring of radical Islamists for the overthrow of the regime of Bashar al-Assad. “Our biggest problem in Syria were our allies in the region,” said Biden. “The Turks were great friends for us, as well as the Saudis, the residents of the Emirates, and others. But what did they do?
They were very focused on toppling President Bashar al-Assad and waged war by proxy between Sunnis and Shiites, they sent hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of arms to all who agreed to fight against Assad.” “It is true that the people who received this aid, were militants of “Jabhat al-Nusra”, “Al-Qaeda”, and extremist elements who have come from other parts of the world.” he stressed. “You think I’m exaggerating? See for yourself where it all went.” Such things are not forgiven in the Middle East. We cannot talk about what is taboo, even if it is known to all.
Biden, who apparently wanted to withdraw with his statements the undoubted responsibility of the United States for the rise of radicalism in the Middle East, had to apologize to all of these countries, to Erdogan, Saud al-Faisal, and the leadership of the Emirates. For now, these countries are noble members of the antiterrorist coalition. Of course, all this belated recognition is an open secret, but the revelations of the second in command in the American administration are costly.
Among other things, they clearly reflect the discussion at the White House and the Pentagon on how to reconcile the irreconcilable, how to bring down the fighters in the coalition against terrorism and its sponsors, and how not to make fatal mistakes. In the final analysis, this incident is merely a reflection of the fact that the United States quickly knocked together a motley coalition and now does not know how to manage it. Washington does not want to get up to its ears in the swamp of the Middle East, where the Saudis and the Turks are actively, but each with their own objectives, tightening their grip.This was made clear by sources of the American administration, when on October 7 they “leaked” in the media that the United States did not support the creation of any buffer or no-fly zone in northern Turkey.
Then there is the question, what is really wanted in the White House? There are more and more signs that the United States within the coalition is doing the minimum necessary to preserve it, and airstrikes are merely the common denominator, which is enough for all at this stage. A little less or a little more and the coalition will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.
Washington is already looking for solutions to its own problems, which also do not fully coincide with those of other members of the coalition. The impression is that the coalition, on the one hand, advocates for Washington as a tool to discipline all its members and rallies around Washington as “leader of the free world”, and on the other hand as a means of pressure on Iran, in order to extract the necessary concessions from the INP and the future geopolitical configuration of the region.
Indeed, the United States is well aware that ISIL is a great danger for Tehran (as well as for the Saudi royal house), and by adjusting the rate of destruction of Islamic radicals (so far everything is going very slowly), as well as hinting, albeit vaguely, at future opportunities, but not necessarily an operation against the main regional ally of Iran – Syria, it may encourage the Iranian ayatollahs to be more flexible on topics of interest to Americans, and Riyadh – to prevent a turn to Moscow.
The main problem in Washington is that it can play both sides off the other, promising different things to its allies, while it is too early for the true purpose of the operation to become clear to the regional participants of the “anti-terrorist coalition”. Which is actually going on...
Maxim Egorov, a political commentator on the Middle East and contributes regularly for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.