In less than a week, a new front has opened in Syria’s 8-year, all-but-over war, featuring hot- and cold-running proxies from its earliest days. Syrian sovereignty is once again violated as casually as a schoolboy cuts across a neighbor’s lawn. The Assad government in Damascus now faces a new threat to its stability. Thousands of Islamic State jihadists may now escape captivity and reactivate their savage campaign to turn Syria, a secular state, into an Islamic autocracy.
All this was set in motion when President Donald Trump advised Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his Turkish counterpart and one of the Middle East’s most unprincipled despots, that U.S. troops would withdraw from positions in northeastern Syria in advance of a Turkish attack on Kurdish forces in the area. Trump spoke to Erdogan by telephone the Sunday before last. The Turkish incursion commenced three days later.
Whether or not Trump “green-lighted” Erdogan’s long-planned attack on Syrian Kurds got a lot of ink last week, but it is not an interesting question. Of course, he did. Here is the interesting question: Is the mess now unfolding along Syria’s border with Turkey precisely the outcome the national security state desired when Trump let the green light shine? Was the perfectly predictable chaos, destruction, and desperation enveloping the region somehow unforeseen? Or was it, from the perspective of Washington’s hawkish, coup-cultivating factions, the fundamental point of this latest travesty on Syrian soil?