— US President Donald Trump's unorthodox approach to foreign policy lessens Washington's leverage and plays into Turkey's hands in Syria particularly with both countries' understanding of what a safe zone in northern Syria would actually be.Turkey repeatedly talks of unilaterally creating "safe zones" in northern Syria on the premise of fighting "terrorism.""This is in fact an extension of Turkey's previous plan to just invade northern Syria — back in October, November, December — basically until the US announced the decision to withdraw this was Erdogan's plan and now he is seeking allies," Merve Tahiroglu said of the Turkish president's recent uptick in communications with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.Tahiroglu is a research analyst for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies specializing on Turkey.
She spoke with Rudaw correspondent on Friday on The Washington Perspective.Tahiroglu argued that Turkey sees the safe zone as essentially a third anti-YPG operation in Syria."What Turkey expects from the safe zone and what the US expects from the safe zone are entirely different," she said.The United States merely sees such actions in Syria through the lens of anti-ISIS operations. "It's mostly to contain this area from ISIS and other jihadists," Tahiroglu added.Leaders in northern Syria from the Manbij Military Council and the Syrian Democratic Council have rejected the idea of a Turkish administered safe zone.It is possible that Trump backs away from endorsing the safe zone."I don't even want to say that the US agreed to it.
And I want to highlight that was President Trump who semi-endorsed this zone with his tweet one time because I don't think that the rest of his administration is on the same page as the president on this," she said.Notably, US Defense Secretary James Mattis announced that he will resign in February and Brett McGurk, the US special presidential envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, left the Department of State in December. The latter has repeatedly criticized his former boss, warning that an announced withdrawal undermines four years of work by the coalition and endangers US and SDF personnel."The main idea is to placate Turkey," Tahiroglu said, adding there is a clear disconnect between Trump, his advisors, diplomats, the military, and intelligence community.She believes that Ankara exploits that gap."This is a major problem for American foreign policy," she added.
Recently, Putin brought up the Adana Protocol that was signed in 1998 between Ankara and Damascus to allow Turkey to conduct cross-border operations against the PKK.However, Tahiroglu argues that invoking the pact would force Erdogan to recognize the regime of Bashar al-Assad who Turkey wants ousted."I think Putin is playing a very smart game," she said.Ultimately, she argues, the United States can never truly leave Syria stabile until the PYD and Ankara reach some kind of agreement.However, it should "terrify" Ankara that the YPG may possibly come to an agreement with Damascus because historically the Assad family has used nationalistic Kurds — like the PKK — against Turkey."This is one of the reasons why Turkey backed regime change initially," she added.
"There is a fraught history.The political wing of the SDF released a list of ten demands last week, and SDC co-chair Ilham Ahmed has said they are always open to negotiations with any party including Damascus.Tahiroglu, however, expressed that Assad is unlikely to grant Kurds any type of autonomy even if it is agreed upon in negotiations.