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Honor is Whatever You Can Still Betray

Everything old eventually becomes new again.  Time Magazine begins its description of the "no fly zone" the Obama administration will implement over Syria by recalling how the same concept was implemented over Iraq from 1991 to 2003.   Wikipedia notes  "the Iraqi no-fly zones were a set of two separate no-fly zones (NFZs), and were proclaimed by the United States, United Kingdom, and France after the Gulf War of 1991 to protect the Kurds in northern Iraq and Shiite Muslims in the south."  Though Time doesn't mention it, readers may recall another "no-fly-zone" declared over Libya, ostensibly to "protect civilians" and to implement an "arms embargo".

Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, "who oversaw the Iraqi no-fly zones as chief of U.S. Central Command from 1997 to 2000" thinks the nomenclature in this instance is inaccurate. “It’s not a no-fly zone—it’s a bombing campaign,” Zinni said.  Patrick Cockburn of the Independent actually believes its the Kurds who are about who's going to get bombed by the Turks for the most part.  "Whatever America was hoping for, initial signs are that the Turkish government may be more interested in moving against the Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iraq than it is in attacking Isis. Ankara has previously said that it considers both the PKK and Isis to be 'terrorists'."

And indeed, not just the PKK but the YPG Turks complain they are now feeling the lash of Turkish might. The BBC reports: "the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) say Turkish tanks shelled their fighters near Kobane in northern Syria".

If the claims are true, this will complicate matters for the coalition against IS as Western powers are co-operating with Syrian Kurds against the jihadists, says the BBC's Mark Lowen in Istanbul.

The administration has denied they have traded access to Turkish airbases in exchange for greenlighting Anakara's attacks on the Kurds, claiming it was all a coincidence.

Brett McGurk, Mr. Obama’s deputy special presidential envoy for the campaign against the Islamic State, tweeted over the weekend that “there is no connection between these airstrikes and recent understandings to intensify U.S.-Turkey cooperation against ISIL.”

State Department spokesman John Kirby went further Monday. “I understand the coincidence of all this, but it is just that,” he said.

Just a coincidence. Happenstance or not, it's clear that Turkey effectively gets a piece of former Syrian territory, albeit under the control of proxies in the process of carving out its "safe zones". A team from the New York Times describes what is known about the plan, which appears to extend Turkish control over Syrian territory being fought over by Assad and ISIS.

Turkey and the United States have agreed in general terms on a plan that envisions American warplanes, Syrian insurgents and Turkish forces working together to sweep Islamic State militants from a 60-mile-long strip of northern Syria along the Turkish border, American and Turkish officials say.

The plan would create what officials from both countries are calling an Islamic State-free zone controlled by relatively moderate Syrian insurgents, which the Turks say could also be a “safe zone” for displaced Syrians. ...

That is an ambitious military goal, because it appears to include areas of great strategic and symbolic importance to the Islamic State, and it could encompass areas that Syrian helicopters regularly bomb. If the zone goes 25 miles deep into Syria, as Turkish news outlets have reported, it could encompass the town of Dabiq, a significant place in the group’s apocalyptic theology, and Manbij, another stronghold. It could also include the Islamic State-held town of Al Bab, where barrel bombs dropped by Syrian aircraft have killed scores, including civilians, in recent weeks.

American officials emphasized that the depth of the buffer zone to be established was one of the important operational details that had yet to be decided. But one senior official said, “You can be assured many of the principal population centers will be covered.”

The plan does not envision Turkish ground troops entering Syria, although long-range artillery could be used across the border. Turkish ground forces would work on their side of the border to stem the Islamic State’s ability to infiltrate foreign fighters and supplies into Syria.

According to the Institute for the Study of War, the coincidence Kirby refers to had its genesis in  Turkish worries that growing Kurdish gains in Syria could be turned against them, agreed to give the US airbase access in exchange for the right to bottle up the Kurds.

The outlines of this agreement between the U.S. and Turkey appear to have been laid during a visit to Turkey by Gen. John Allen (ret.) and U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Christine Wormuth on July 7-8. Unconfirmed reports at the time suggested that the talks had resulted in preliminary approval for the coalition’s use of Incirlik Airbase after Turkey received assurances that the U.S. would consider Turkish proposals for a buffer zone in northern Syria and block any attempt by Syrian Kurdish forces to move into areas along the Turkish border west of the Euphrates River.

These accounts suggested that Turkey had offered a major concession by dropping its long-standing insistence that the international coalition expand its air campaign against ISIS to include airstrikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This rebalancing suggests that recent developments may have led the Turkish government to prioritize the internal security threats posed by ISIS and the PKK over Turkey’s regional concerns regarding Iranian expansionism and the enduring presence of the Syrian regime.

Interestingly, the Turks did not appear bent on annihilating ISIS with their planned strikes, simply hurting them enough to keep them on their best behavior. The Institute for the Study of War continued its description on how the planning proceeded.

The successful conclusion of these negotiations following months of talks likely came as a product of the intensifying security concerns facing the Turkish government. Turkey had previously avoided overt confrontation with ISIS and other militant groups transiting through its territory in order to apply indirect pressure to both the Syrian regime and the Syrian Kurdish YPG, which the Turkish government views as an offshoot of the PKK. This stance also enabled Turkey to limit the potential for violent terrorist attacks within its borders by providing an incentive for ISIS and other extremist groups to avoid jeopardizing their supply routes through Turkey by disrupting the status quo.

What really alarmed the Turks was that the Kurds were holding their own against ISIS.  This, plus the decline of Assad, may have pushed them into getting directly involved.

Although the existence of these transit pathways represented an implicit threat to Turkey, the seizure of the border town of Tel Abyad in northern Syria from ISIS on June 15 by Kurdish YPG forces appears to have been the primary trigger which forced Turkey to reevaluate its security policies. The prospect of further gains along the Syrian-Turkish border by PKK-linked Kurdish forces directly supported by the U.S.-led coalition likely generated the impetus for Turkey to further engage with the anti-ISIS coalition in order to ensure that the coalition campaign would evolve in line with Turkey’s own strategic interests.

With the Ophthalmologist of Damascus on the ropes, Turkey may have sensed it time to go in for the kill, and as a lion shoves aside a jackal, Turkey may be grabbing parts of Syria for themselves -- for the moment at least. Since Obama needed Turkey to help put down what he once called the Jayvee team, Erdogan had him over a barrel.  The president had to greenlight Anakara's campaign against the Kurds in return for getting him out of a jam.

The question is, can Erdogan pull it off?  The Turkish leader is not forever.  Desmond Butler of the Associated Press says that Turkey has its own internal security issues, which it regards as a bigger threat than ISIS.  The Turkish government, by attacking the Kurds, is not only making an external security move against ISIS and the Kurds in Syria, but is re-starting an internal security campaign.  Butler writes:

"At the moment, the acting prime minister is, step by step, taking Turkey toward a war," HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas said of Davutoglu, adding that the bombings across Turkey's border "are all part of the government plan to save themselves."

Turkey could now face a return to a guerrilla war with the PKK that only months ago looked likely to end for good in a peace agreement — even as IS is destabilizing Turkey with the threat of further violence.

"The fact that Turkey is now clamping down on IS, which is liable to retaliate and at the same time taking on the PKK, raises great uncertainty for Turkey," said Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The past week of worrying news in Turkey has included a suicide bombing, an IS ambush of Turkish soldiers along the border, PKK reprisals and the arrest of hundreds across Turkey accused of affiliations with IS, the PKK and a leftist extremist group. These security problems have also raised concern about the Turkish economy, which just in this brief spurt of turmoil has seen the Turkish lira fall by about 4 percent.

Obama is along for the ride. He has bet American prestige and honor on Erdogan's play, either by choice or in consequence of "leading from behind",  as he has similarly wagered it on the ayatollahs in Tehran.  These deals with the strongmen of the moment, so apparently advantageous in his view, may backfire on him. If the tide of history goes against these rulers in the region, US interests will go down the tubes along with his bets.

Moreover, Turkey's entry and with it, NATO, officially internationalizes the Syrian civil war.  Where this may lead, who can guess.  Anakara may think it is coming to Syria, but perhaps it will be the chaos in Syria that is coming to Turkey.

Drones, rendition, "no-fly-zones", proxy warfare (not to be called mercenaries by the way) under a "responsibility to protect" are the politically preferred way of war -- pardon, kinetic military action.  The peace the administration wins is the peace of appearances. Polite society doesn't want to know the real deal any more than it wants to see ultrasounds of doomed babies that form the factual basis for "choice".  It can't handle the truth, any more than it can handle what Planned Parenthood really does. Fiction at all costs.

If it looks like Obama is shafting the Kurds,  the media will find some euphemism for it, such as "it's only a coincidence". If someday you hear a man yelling in the street "Soylent Green is people! Soylent Green is people!", ignore it. Better that you don't know.


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