The Turks are isolated, under pressure, the target of terrorists, on the brink of a wider conflict in Syria, and headlong into a diplomatic crisis with the United States.
The Turkish predicament is extraordinarily complex and has much to do with Ankara’s approach to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, its willful blind eye to extremists fighting the Assad regime, and its foot-dragging when the United States asked for access to Turkish bases in 2014 to fight the self-declared Islamic State. I can hear the howling from Ankara already, but Washington has a lot to answer for as well. We’ll never know what might have happened had the United States intervened in the Syrian conflict early on when there was at least a chance of making a difference, but the series of half-measures and misbegotten ideas about a negotiated solution to the vortex of violence that has consumed Syrians at an astonishing rate is hard to get my head around.
For example, it seemed clear to me—and many others—that Moscow’s primary goal by intervening militarily was to create a situation in which the rest of the world would be forced to choose between Assad and the Islamic State. The Obama administration harbored a different view. American officials believed, rather, that Russian intervention would create an environment where all the relevant players—Assad, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria’s opposition—would come off of their maximalist positions and negotiate in good faith. This did not even take into account extremists who are fighting in Syria for multiple other reasons only tangentially related to the quality of politics in Assad’s Syria. For the most part, the Obama administration has successfully kept the United States out of Syria, but it has looked weak and feckless in the process.