Turkey’s military offensive into Afrin in Syria brings a new dimension to the ongoing weakening of the Turkish alliance with its biggest and decades-old ally, the United States. Turkey’s actions come on the heels of a quiet, but a strategic shift from its Western partners to a budding alliance with the Global East that is geostrategically anchored in Russia and Iran, and economically nurtured by China.
Through its operations in Afrin, Turkey has put on display its willingness to digress from the principles that kept its alliance with its NATO partners, and its resolve to protect what it sees as its strategic interests. According to Ankara, those interests in Syria can directly affect its territorial integrity.
Kurdish forces in northern Syria (similar to their brethren in Iraq) have been a strategic instrument of American influence. And in the post-ISIS regional environment, the Kurds are Washington’s best bet to put pressure on Assad and his Iranian allies in the Levant. Turkish strategic about-face now serves Tehran’s interests and, unwittingly, strengthening Assad’s hand. The U.S strategy in Syria is not well-articulated and its presence is in a desolate and sparsely populated area with little, if any, leverage against Assad and his regime.
Operations in Afrin have already killed hundreds of Kurdish fighters and, with their current pace, could practically unravel American plans to nurture a Kurdish force in northern Syria that would protect U.S interests against Assad and Iran. Seen from this angle, NATO, for the first time since its founding, is at war with itself. Erdogan’s misguided and uninformed foreign policy is inflicting pain on NATO, an organization that Turkey is a key member of.