Thanks to Claire Berlinski, we discover that the Turks are all of a sudden worried that the Arab Spring–so enthusiastically embraced by Ankara–shows signs of transmuting into the Kurdish Spring. Which is, let us say in our understated way, bothersome to President Erdogan and his ambitious teammates. So it’s not surprising to see the Turks mobilizing the army along the Syrian (or should we now call it “the Kurdish”?) border. Nor that the Turks, at least in part to save some dignity in the face of public criticism of their failure to foresee the Kurdish actions, have unleashed their bombers at the usual PKK suspects. Meanwhile, lost in all the excitement over the battle for Aleppo, the steady flow of defectors from Assad’s ranks and files, and the extraordinary carnage throughout Syria, regular Syrian forces exchanged salvos with the Jordanian Army.
As usual, when the leaders-from-behind warn that there might be regional fallout from the Syrian “civil war,” it’s already well underway. Lots of people outside the corridors of power see it clearly. Take Fouad Ajami, for example, in a splendid essay in Tablet, in which he looks at the “proxy war” in Syria (which is to say, a regional war, as I have been arguing for some time), and its unlikely alliance of the Saudi royal family and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Or look at Benjamin Weinthal, who worries over at The Corner that Obama is handing an undeserved and certainly unwanted victory in Syria to the Iranians.
As you know, I’m reluctant to call a winner in this thing. I think I know that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has told his minions in Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guards to go all out on behalf of Assad, and there have been some recent reports from the Free Syrian Army (aka The Opposition) of Iranian sharpshooters crossing into Syria. And today’s reports of Iranian “pilgrims” taken prisoner near Damascus suggests to my nose that these guys are very likely fighters, not the sort planning to pray at a mosque. I have the same sort of suspicion about the “trade talks” between Iran and Syria; I think they’re talking about mass murder, not commercial links. Given the way the spooky world works nowadays, with all electronic communications monitored by their enemies, you can be pretty sure that the really important conversations are face-to-face, not via email or cell phone.
According to my friends, Khamenei has told his killers that they have total license and virtually unlimited budgets to crush the Syrian opposition. Assad promised the Iranians that he’d have Damascus and Aleppo under control by the end of Ramadan, and then move on to other targets. The Iranians can’t have much confidence in such guarantees, and want their own guys on the ground. I rather suspect the Russians are in there as well. Can they win? I don’t know. But I do know that Assad is a Baathist version of the legend of Nero; he’s prepared to burn the whole country to the ground. And I also know that our policy of doing the absolute minimum to bring down Assad is a terrible method, both strategically and morally. It lessens the chances of winning (that is, bringing down Assad, which is the necessary albeit insufficient first move) and guarantees more horror, both for the fighters and the unfortunate civilians who were born in the wrong place.
Meanwhile, the Kurds have taken over a big chunk of Syria, maybe 10-15%, and they haven’t had to fight for it. The Turks hate it, Assad hates it, Khamenei hates it, and the Iraqi government can’t much like it either, since a moderately secure Syrian Kurdistan is the second building block in a big Kurdistan. At the moment, Assad isn’t about to go after the Kurds (bigger fish to fry), and the Turks, while they’re bombing the usual suspects along and across the Iraqi frontier, don’t want to rev up a big military operation in which they bash Kurds instead of Assad. That wouldn’t look good at all.