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Turkey's Big Con

The Turkish government is finally allowing the United States to use Incirlik Air Base, just 70 miles from the Syrian border, to launch air strikes over ISIS-held territory—but only if American air power is not used to support Kurdish militias.

The United States, at this late date, is not really interested in helping anyone in Syria aside from the Kurds. All other factions fighting ISIS and the bankrupt Assad regime are Sunni Arab Islamists.

The Kurds are the only American option. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will only allow American planes taking off from Incirlik to provide air cover for the so-called Army of Conquest, an Islamist movement backed by the Turks and the Qataris.

Most Americans have never even heard of the Army of Conquest, and even fewer would like it. It’s an umbrella organization that includes the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. It’s preferable to ISIS, yes, but using American air power to cover an Al Qaeda advance is never going to happen. The US has already bombed Al Qaeda positions in Syria and almost certainly will again.

Turkey just can’t stand to see an autonomous Kurdish region take shape along its border in Northern Syria. It’s understandable up to a point. The Syrian Kurdish militias are aligned with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a former Soviet proxy that has waged a thirty years-long war against the Turkish state.

Turkey could make peace with the Kurds. They’re the easiest people in the entire Middle East to make friends with. Americans and even Israelis have pulled it off practically by default. But Erdogan, like every other Turkish leader before him, just can’t face up to the fact that they’ve been treating the Kurds—who make up as much as 25 percent of Turkey’s population—like second-class citizens or worse since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the modern republic in the ashes of World War I. He can’t face up to the fact that Ankara is as much to blame for this long-simmering conflict as the quasi-Marxist PKK.

If every reasonable Kurdish grievance were finally addressed, support for the PKK would evaporate for the same reason support for similar organizations evaporated almost everywhere else in the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But Erdogan isn’t interested in anything aside from digging his heels in, even if it means an Islamist organization with Al Qaeda among its ranks takes control of northern Syria.

You might think Turkey, by opening Incirlik Air Base, is finally coming around on the war against ISIS, but only if you squint and squint hard. 
 

 

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