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Ilhan Tanir
Dec 20 2018

Turkey's Syria threat does the trick - expert

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's escalation against U.S. positions in northern Syria has paid off, said Syria expert Dr. Joshua Landis at Ilhan Tanir's podcast program Washington Hattı on the day U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria. 

Erdoğan has been threatening to intervene in northeastern Syria's Kurdish zone for months. The Pentagon and national security advisers have been arguing that the United States should back the Syrian Kurdish allies and stay in Syria to rollback Iranian influence.

"President Trump was always the weakest link in American position in north Syria," said Landis, director of the Middle East Studies program at the University of Oklahoma. "The national security teams under Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton have taken a much more aggressive stance in Syria, which has switched from being purely anti-ISIS mission to a rollback Iran position.'' 

This strategy means that ''U.S. troops will be stuck in Syria years to come," Landis said, "and Trump is not happy about it.'' 

Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey was appointed as America's new Syria envoy in August to oversee this strategy to rollback Iranian influence. Jeffrey explained this strategy only days ago in Washington on Monday only to be blindsided today by the new strategy by Trump. 

This is not the first time Trump has called for withdrawal. When running for president in 2016, Landis pointed out, he promised to take U.S. troops out of "stupid wars."  

Landis also argued that Trump will still have to fight the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Trump's decision makes sense from a strategic point of view: the United States is in a weak position, with every surrounding country wanting it out. "The United States has no allies" but Kurds, said Landis. And to stay with the Kurds there, Trump would have to keep investing more in the country -- an investment Trump does not want to make. 

Landis also thinks that if the United States wants to weaken Iran, having Turkey on its side is key, whether sanctioning Iran or other matters.

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday approved the sale of a $3.5 billion Patriot missile defence system to Turkey. Whether the sale, which as been on hold for years, means a major realignment in the regional politics between Ankara and Washington remains to be seen.