This piece originally appeared at UndergroundReporter.org.
Syria — Turkey’s military is now firing on Kurdish fighters in Syria, Reuters reported Thursday, with over two dozen airstrikes against Kurdish militia groups carried out overnight. The report — as many of them have, of late — pointed out how such actions might ruffle the feathers of the United States, and it did so in its opening paragraph:
“Turkish jets pounded a U.S.-backed group of Kurdish-led militia fighters in northern Syria with more than 20 airstrikes overnight, highlighting the conflicting agendas of the two NATO allies in an increasingly complex battlefield.”
After giving a few more details about the attack, the report explains — in, granted, the very broadest of strokes — the source of contention:
“The United States has backed the Kurdish-led forces in their fight against Islamic State, angering Ankara, which sees the YPG as an extension of Kurdish PKK militants who have waged a three-decade insurgency in southeastern Turkey.
“Turkey fears the YPG will try to connect three de facto autonomous Kurdish cantons that have emerged during the five-year war to create a Kurdish-run enclave in northern Syria, stoking the separatist ambitions of Kurds on its own soil.”
Essentially, the U.S. views the Kurds as useful in the fight against ISIS and doesn’t really care if Turkey has a problem with that. Turkey, making no apologies for its perception of the Kurds, is now actively engaging them in combat on the Syrian battlefront — and doesn’t really care if the U.S. has a problem with that.
But in truth, one needs only look to the recent words of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to fully grasp the shift in Turkey’s posturing — and to fully appreciate how once-staunch U.S. ally, Turkey, has become the wild card in the march to all-out global warfare.
A NEWFOUND BOLDNESS
“From now on we will not wait for problems to come knocking on our door,” President Erdoğan said before a crowd of loyal municipal administrators at his palace on Wednesday, “we will not wait until the blade is against our bone and skin, we will not wait for terrorist organizations to come and attack us.”
Referring to Kurdish fighters his military would target within hours, the president said: “Whoever supports the divisive terrorist organization, we will dig up their roots. Let them go wherever until we find and destroy them. I am saying this very clearly: they will not have a single place to find peace abroad.”
Erdogan’s comments came amid his feeling slighted over being ordered by the Iraqi military to abstain from participating in the long-planned “Battle for Mosul” that launched earlier this week. That campaign, spearheaded by Iraqi forces and supported from the air by a U.S.-led coalition, is tasked with ejecting ISIS from its last remaining stronghold in northern Iraq, in the town of Mosul.
Erdogan feels Turkey has every right to take part in the offensive, however, as Turkey understands regional hostilities and has a direct stake in the future of its Middle Eastern neighbor, Iraq.
“We know this business in the region. You are foreigners here. You do not know,” he said Wednesday, addressing Western nations — and the U.S., in particular.
Which sounds a lot like Erdoğan saying the West should step aside and allow regional players to handle regional conflicts. Or, at a minimum, like he’s saying Turkey will act in its own interest and as it sees fit from now on — regardless of how the U.S.-led West feels about its moves.
In fact, that’s exactly what he did say:
“We are not obliged to abide by the role anyone has set for us in that sense. We have started carrying out our own plan.”
Erdoğan’s tough words are merely the latest, albeit the most pointed, display of boldness from the Turkish leader in recent months — a boldness rooted in the growing distance from the West, yes, but also in burgeoning relations with the United States’ primary adversary, Russia.
BEGINNINGS OF A NEW ALLIANCE
Since surviving a failed coup attempt in July, President Erdoğan has been riding a wave of popular support from his citizenry. While intimating the U.S. was secretly behind the attempt, Erdoğan has taken the opportunity to cage tens of thousands of his suspected detractors in both the public and private sectors of Turkish society.
Seemingly, this newfound security in his position gave Erdoğan the confidence to push things even further.
By early August, in fact — less than a month after the coup attempt and in the midst of Erdoğan accusing the U.S. of orchestrating the whole affair — the Turkish president was meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time since bad blood emerged between the two men following a Turkish shootdown of a Russian fighter jet in November of 2015.
Erdoğan had written a letter of apology to Putin over the incident back in June, but still hadn’t met with the Russian president in person. Turkey suddenly lashing out against the U.S., it appears, was enough to get the two men at the same table.
But there’s much more to consider. There’s the Turkish Stream pipeline, for instance, which would bring natural gas from Russia to Turkey, then be distributed to Europe. That deal — which has been in the works since 2014 — wasn’t made official until this month as, according to ABC News, the two nations work to “normalize ties.”
Perhaps emboldened by his warming relations with the global superpower that is Russia, Erdoğan subsequently began his recent flexing of Turkish military muscle back in early September — less than a month after sitting down with Putin and barely a month before signing the Turkish Stream deal.
On September 3, Turkish tanks rolled across the border into northern Syria as part of the U.S.-led Operation Euphrates Shield, a campaign purportedly targeting ISIS. Once within the Syrian border, however, Turkish troops turned and opened fire on Kurdish YPG fighters in the town of Jarabulus.
Turkish forces easily ejected the Kurdish militiamen from the town, and subsequently ordered — yes, ordered — the United States to have their Kurdish allies in the area retreat to east of the Euphrates River. Amazingly, the U.S. was quick to obey the command, as highlighted by Reuters:
“U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu by phone on Thursday that YPG fighters were retreating to the east side of the Euphrates, as Turkey has demanded, foreign ministry sources in Ankara said.”
Or, as Underground Reporter wrote then: “Turkey barked, and the U.S. jumped.”
Turkey’s new confidence and independent streak, not to mention its widening economic ties to Russia, puts its status as a U.S. ally in question. This, naturally, makes its insistence on operating freely in the Middle East — where the U.S. and Russia are at odds on how to proceed militarily — an unknown variable in how events will play out in the future.
“After he then apologized to the Russians, there was a kind of moment of everybody saying ‘What exactly is happening?’” geopolitical analyst George Friedman said back in July. “And then this happened.”
“So we went from a period where we thought we had reached a reconciliation with Erdogan, to a period where it all fell apart. So behind the scenes in Washington I strongly suspect there is a feeling of ‘What do we do next?’”
Indeed, Turkey has long been a linchpin of U.S. Middle East foreign policy. The loss of the country as a dependable ally in the region, not to mention the outside possibility of losing it altogether to Russia, no doubt has Washington scrambling to patch up the works.
But the implications go far beyond the Middle East, as virtually every major conflict zone — or zones of potential conflict — on the planet can, in some way, be linked back to the escalating tensions between Russia and the United States.
To be sure, the coming global war, if it can’t be averted, will consist of two primary forces — nations allied with the U.S. and the West, and those supporting the now-rising Eurasian bloc, led by Russia and China. Countries, as they have in world wars of the past, will be forced to choose sides out of necessity.
Even now, a Russian naval fleet — the largest to sail since the Cold War — is headed for the Mediterranean Sea to assist in the military campaign in Syria. Scheduled to arrive in less than two weeks, the launching of the Russian fleet has set the stage — and initiated a countdown — for a confrontation between the U.S. and Russia in Aleppo.
Turkey, meanwhile, in both words and actions, is proving it’s the unknown factor in these proceedings — the wild card, if you will. It’s become unpredictable, unreliable, and altogether unapologetic about the actions it will make in the future. As such, actions like forcing itself onto battlefields where it isn’t wanted, for instance, in Mosul — as it claims it has every right to do — may be just the thing to set off the planet-wide conflagration so many have predicted for so very long.