An implosion in Syria

President Obama’s dainty maneuvers invite a war in the region

By The Washington Times Staff

July 1, 2015

The Obama administration's determination to stay clear of the civil war in Syria, understandable but dangerous, is a tale of red lines drawn and then ignored as if they had never been drawn. President Obama's brave talk followed by nothing much threatens to lead to an implosion of the region.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey threatens to intervene directly along his southeastern border with Syria to prevent the consolidation of an anonymous Kurdish colony that could become a state. A Kurdish militia, the People's Defense Units, supported by low-intensity American air bombardment, has wrested control of two-thirds of Syria's 560-mile border with Turkey. That's the good news.

The not-so-good news is that this is an area populated mostly by ethnic Kurds, and there's evidence that they intend to set up a government of their own. Such a state could ally itself with fellow Kurds in neighboring Iraq who are bearing the weight of the ground fighting against the Islamic State, or ISIS.

This has jeopardized Mr. Erdogan's effort, after years of refusal by Turkish governments, to negotiate a settlement with his own Kurdish minority, perhaps 16 million of the nation's 80 million residents. Most of them live in southeast Turkey near the Syrian border, now in a chaotic state with refugees swarming everywhere. It's the pathway for Muslim volunteers — including some from Europe, the United States and Canada — to join the war against the Assad regime in Damascus.

Mr. Erdogan's critics have charged Turkish connivance with ISIS, though the Ankara government is part of the American mission to "degrade and destroy" the Islamic State, as Mr. Obama promised to do a year ago.

Turkey's own Kurds, once supported by the Soviet Union, waged a bloody 30-year guerrilla campaign against the central government. Mr. Erdogan had been moving to defuse the Kurdish issue with concessions on language and other issues. In the recent election, however, it was a Kurdish party which emerged in parliament, becoming the principal opposition to blocking a majority for Mr. Erdogan's party. That halted his efforts to remold Turkey's constitution to create a strong, perhaps authoritarian, presidential system, to enhance his growing flirtation with Islamism.

Turkish newspapers say Mr. Erdogan wants to establish a 20-mile "security" zone inside Syria to boost the tiny Free Syrian Army, which, with American backing, is trying to seize the opposition mantle from ISIS and other Islamic terrorists. The increasingly fragile Assad regime in Damascus is supported by Iran and Russia. Many in the region warn that Turkish direct intervention could get out of hand quickly, given the chaotic nature of the Syrian war. Nothing is uncomplicated in the Middle East.

It may be too late to do much about it, and it is increasingly self evident that the Obama administration not only doesn't have a strategy — as the president himself concedes — but its patchwork of fixes, like patches on an old inner tube, is contributing to the prospects of a regional war.