It’s basically impossible to over-state how stupid the current US position in Syria is. What’s going on there is a proxy war between two clearly opposed sides. Obviously it would be preferable if Syria was still whole, and half a million people hadn’t died, but it is possible to envision a fairly stable frozen conflict, that would allow everybody to move on and rebuild. There being no justice in the world, this frozen conflict would also work out pretty well for the US. Worried about Iran? Turkey’s there to balance them. Worried about Turkey’s growing influence in the region? Russia and Iran are there to confront Turkey. Want to shield the Kurds from Turkey’s (alleged) genocidal plots? Assad, who the Kurds have been working with closely since 2011, would be happy to do it.
The United States is the only thing standing in the way of a more peaceful situation that works out better for the United States. Our insistence, with Israel, on being everybody’s enemy, all at once, keeps Syria in a permanently unbalanced state. Thanks to the Russians, the meat grinder stopped a number of years ago, but it could tip over into a mass death situation again at any moment. It almost did this past spring. My hope is that today’s video can help to illustrate how much better off we would be if we just left.
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Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. Over the past few weeks I have been besieged by terrified Greek nationalists. The way they see the world still strikes me as prejudiced against Turkey, but they have gotten me thinking a little harder about what Turkish President Erdogan may be up to. And this thinking has brought me to a very weird place. Is Syria’s Bashar Assad vital to
With one exception Greeks can’t stop telling me about, for almost a whole century Turkey did very little foreign adventuring. Their massive military mostly occupied itself with coups and Kurd suppression, but also had a wise tradition of staying the eff out of the Middle East. That changed in 2016 when Turkey invaded Syria. Now when that happened, I was pretty sure that it would backfire massively and quickly for Erdogan and for Turkey. I still think it will. Turkey’s getting into the occupation game is a terrible fucking idea. The thing is, the costs have come. Turkish soldiers have died in large numbers, and Turkey isn’t budging. In fact it’s been stradily expanding its influence chunk by chunk of Syrian territory since 2016.
Erdogan seems to have doubled down, winning political points at home and abroad for his intervention in Libya and winning zero points outside of Turkey by kicking up a new clown show in the Eastern Mediterranean over gas. What is important to emphasize here is that Turkey has never had the power to unbalance the region all by itself. All its interventions have been justified by chaos created by others. Libya was destroyed by the United States. Turkey certainly took a leading role in destroying Syria but that was under US direction and with massive funding supplied and coordinated by the United States. Even the Cyprus intervention was a delayed result of Britain’s typical botching of that island’s independence process. Whether you are biased in Turkey’s favor as I am and believe they are pursuing partially rational interests, or think they are evil Ottoman imperialists the lesson is clear. It’s the chaos that allows Turkey to expand.
So if we are supposed to be worried about Erdogan’s ambitions why the hell are the US and Israel working so hard to bring further chaos to Syria? Despite many promises to the contrary, Donald Trump is very much pursuing Barack Obama’s Get Assad project, and Israel is barely bothering to conceal the amount of Bombing it does in Syria anymore. The more I think about this the more insane it looks.
For years now I have considered a Jihadist hell to be the most likely result of the fall of Assad. Maybe something better was possible for a few months in 2011, but it was obvious by 2012 that the CIA and Saudi Arabia had produced an Al Queda haven, and by 2014 the Get Assad project had given the world the horrors of the Islamic State. You had to be in the selling bombs business to think this was a good result, but that is the business most US and Israeli leaders are in, so there you go. But it’s not 2011 or 2014 or even 2016 anymore. The gulf countries don’t have the spare cash for terrorism anymore, and Syria’s rebel militias have a new patron. Turkey. And unlike most gulf states, Turkey has a very real, very big, and very competent army. So maybe the result of Assad’s fall won’t be Raytheon friendly chaos. Maybe it will be a Turkish border with Israel.
It sounds crazy, but the more I think about this, the more plausible it gets. Turkey could work its way down the coast. The extraordinary mess Lebanon’s leaders have made makes that poor country vulnerable to a strong man right now. As bad as Turkey’s currency and religious situation might look at the moment, Lebanon’s is infinitely worse. Whether or not Lebanon is involved, If Assad falls, it’s easy to imagine the chaos that follows giving Erdogan a series of rationalizations that bring Turkey all the way down to the Israeli and Jordanian borders. The Turks have been there before after all.
Let me be clear. There’s nothing cool or romantic about this idea. A process of conquest like this would involve Turkey becoming exactly the violent fascist state that the craziest Greeks imagine it is. This would require the death of Turkey’s still surprisingly strong democracy. Trashing borders that have existed for a century, and stealing sovereignty like this would almost certainly involve brutal occupation and genocide. It would be a horror show.
Israel has helped wreck Syria out of the fear that Iran has too much influence there. I think the prospect of Turkey on the border, especially a Turkey that has changed for the worse enough to conquer Syria is much scarier. For over a decade now Erdogan and Netanyahu have done a politically profitable dance where they condemn each other, but their countries mostly continue business as usual. That’s not really possible anymore if they share a border. To be clear, I am not saying this is definitely going to happen if Assad falls, but Turkish expansion throughout Syria, is a spectacularly dangerous possibility that nobody seems to be paying attention to. The end of the Syrian buffer zone could make a Turkish war with Israel and its allies terrifyingly likely. It would be far cheaper for everyone involved, and possibly save millions upon millions of lives if Assad were allowed to stick around.
The US effort to destroy Syria has been disastrous from the start, resulting in the refugee crisis and Britain’s exit from the European Union. Yet it continues. This year’s Caesar sanctions are brutalizing Syria’s people in a new way, and it seems like many prospective members of Joe Biden’s administration are still interested in overthrowing Assad. But Assad may be all that’s standing in the way of a Turkish-Israeli border. Bashar Assad may be vital to Israeli security.