Such is the spirit of the times that we are continually bewildered by the reasoning — or rather the unreasonableness — of people in different parts of the world. I’m not talking about Brexit or about the wall that is supposed to prevent illegal immigration into the United States. This is about the region with the mother of all problems: the Middle East.
What spreads unreasonableness like an epidemic is accelerating disarray in Washington. It began with the Obama administration and is a source of wild speculation. There have been shockingly visible flip-flop decisions by US President Donald Trump and a slew of dismissals and resignations, not least that of US Defence Secretary James Mattis.
Recently, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took the stage. There he was in Egypt on January 10 contradicting not only what President Barack Obama said in Cairo a decade ago but also the decision of his boss, Trump.
“America is a force for good in the Middle East,” Pompeo said at the American University in Cairo. “We need to acknowledge that truth because if we don’t, we make bad choices… When America retreats, chaos follows.”
He added: “President Trump has made the decision to bring our troops home from Syria. We always do and now is the time but this isn’t a change of mission. We remain committed to the complete dismantling of the [Islamic State] threat and the ongoing fight against radical Islamism in all its forms.”
Are we back to square one? Where were we?
Oh, yes, the endless arm wrestling in Syria, with Russia and Iran gleefully preparing for the next steps to a post-Sykes-Picot era. Moscow and Tehran hope the new reality will reduce a dysfunctional NATO to convulsions and that Turkey becomes a game spoiler in their favour.
To predict what Ankara wants in this messy picture is anybody’s guess. What is generally missing in any overall analysis is that the deep disarray in the American administration keeps pace with the infighting in Ankara. In the corridors of power in the Turkish capital, the struggle is discreet but intense. It is about who will truly be in charge.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls the shots. But does he really?
What about those who openly favour reopening dialogue with Damascus and keeping ever closer to Moscow? Is Erdogan aware that those elements are insidiously preparing the ground to force him in a different direction?
They want to compel Erdogan to abandon his vision of Syria as dominated by a subordinate Sunni segment.
These are the same forces that unite with Erdogan against what they see as a common enemy, the Kurds. They are determined on what must happen if they are to share power with Erdogan and his Islamists. The battle against the Kurds will have to remain relentless. Maintaining high levels of pressure on both domestic and Syrian Kurds is important.
Given this brutal reality and the mixed messages from the United States, it is amazing to see that some pundits discern new opportunity in the situation. Those “experts” recently suggested that Trump’s erratic decision to pull out his troops from Syria is an opening for a grand bargain, for a comprehensive peace between Turkey and the Kurds in the region. Really?
If you listen to those pundits, who seem to be taken seriously even by the Washington Post, it’s the perfect time for the White House to engage Ankara and force its chief enemy, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), to new talks.
However, those pundits agree that at least one condition will have to be met. The PKK would withdraw from Turkey and give free rein to Erdogan to do the rest, which is to adopt the role of protector of the region’s Kurds.
We shall hear more of such nonsense in the coming weeks. Irrationality, as I said, has become an epidemic.
The facts of the matter are as follows: Had Erdogan been sincere, he would have had a golden opportunity and public support to negotiate a peace process with the Kurds five years ago. He blew it. Why would he do anything different now, when surrounded by hawks?
Besides, a grand bargain would require fundamental reform to grant Turkish Kurds all their rights, as well as accountability for crimes against humanity perpetrated since 2015.
It is a pipe dream to float the idea of the United States, whose concern is to block Iran’s advancement, helping to bring Ankara and the PKK together but such are the times we live in. Not just fake news but fake opinions.
Yavuz Baydar is a senior Turkish columnist, and news analyst. A founding member of the Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) in Istanbul, he has been reporting on Turkey and monitoring media issues since 1980. A European Press Prize Laureate in 2014, he is also the winner of Germany's 'Journalistenpreis' in 2018.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.