BUSINESS INSIDER, by Willis Krumholz, Defense Priorities
At least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in Syria’s Idlib province by an airstrike conducted by Syrian government forces, who are backed by Russia. Another 35 were injured in the attack. In response, Turkey launched strikes of its own against Syrian forces.
Amid this new wave of violence in Syria, the US maintains its military presence in Syria and is even considering supplying Turkey with Patriot missiles to bolster Turkey’s military campaign.
However, it would show much wisdom to withdraw US troops from harm’s way and refuse to underwrite Ankara’s reckless incursion into Syria.
Late last year, Turkey plunged its forces into Syria, attempting to gain a buffer from Kurdish forces who wish to carve off a piece of Turkish territory. With that goal accomplished, Turkey is now attempting to increase its power in the region.
In what appears to be an effort to re-ignite the Syrian civil war, Turkey is working with jihadist rebels, whom Ankara has long supported in the fight against the Assad regime.
Because of this, and the general belief in territorial sovereignty, Syrian forces will always attack Turkish forces working with jihadist groups in Syria—look no further than last week’s strike.
Complicating this already sticky situation is Turkey’s privileged status as a NATO ally. As it goes after the Assad regime, it will continue to square off against Russia. A belligerent Turkey, ruled by a corrupt autocrat, could be angling to pull America into conflict with nuclear-armed Russia.
Turkey has called an emergency NATO meeting after the Syrian strike, and a Turkish government statement promised to “revenge our martyred heroic soldiers.”
A US spokesperson for the State Department has said, “We stand by our NATO Ally Turkey and continue to call for an immediate end to this despicable offensive by the Assad regime, Russia and Iranian-backed forces.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg promised “strong political support and… practical support” for Turkey.
What’s more, Turkish belligerence in Syria is revealing the cracks within the NATO alliance. America’s European NATO allies are also relying on Turkey to control the flow of migrants from Syria into Europe—and Turkey’s willingness to use this as a bargaining chip has given Turkey leverage over its European neighbors.
Going forward America needs to tread carefully, lest an alliance with Turkey drags the US into a wider conflict we have absolutely no interest in.
First off, the US State Department’s unequivocal support for Turkey’s actions is likely to embolden Ankara, as it stumbles into disaster in Syria. An emboldened Turkey increases the risk that Turkey and Russia stumble toward open conflict.
Again, because Turkey is a NATO member, America has an Article 5 commitment to come to Turkey’s defense if it is attacked.
By the way, Turkey already carries much responsibility for—from the get-go—funding the jihadist elements who fought in the bloody civil war. The Assad regime is brutal and has committed a host of human rights violations, but so have many of the jihadists Turkey has funded and armed.
Because of this, from an anti-terror perspective, Turkey is not the good guy in this fight. Areas outside the control of the Assad regime in Damascus are more hospitable to anti-US terrorists—including both ISIS and al-Qaeda.
The fact that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was hiding out in one of these ungoverned spaces near Idlib is a stark reminder of this fact.
Turkey is neither a good friend nor an enemy, but right now America is committed to voice support for Turkey. That’s a mistake.
The truth is that NATO membership shouldn’t be a one-way street, and collective-defense alliances with belligerent countries like Turkey are extremely far from cost-free.
Cheerleading Turkey’s footprint in Syria is the last thing the US State Department should be doing, as such a situation is directly opposed to US interests in the region.
Finally, an emboldened Turkey, less restrained in its attempt to depose Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, will also exacerbate the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Syria. Right now, Turkey is prolonging the civil war in Syria.
This undermines both American humanitarian and counterterrorism aims, because the longer the war goes on the more violence and suffering ensues.
Instead of applauding Turkey’s actions in Syria, because Turkey seeks to take out Assad, the US foreign policy establishment should be calling Turkey out for destabilizing the region further.
Willis L Krumholz is a fellow at Defense Priorities. He holds a JD and MBA degree from the University of St. Thomas, and works in the financial services industry.
Originally published by Business Insider
The 21st Century