I thought it would take about a week, but I was wrong. Just a couple of days after President Trump withdrew US forces from northern Syria, Turkey launched an offensive designed to rout the Kurdish militia – as a prelude to an orgy of ethnic cleansing.
Vastly outnumbered Kurds need every man they can find, which is why they’ve had to withdraw their troops from guarding ISIS prisoner camps. Hence the immediate effect of Trump’s action will be thousands of ISIS fanatics re-joining the fight in the Middle East – or, as a safer option, bestowing their attentions on Europe.
But that’s only the immediate effect. Turkey’s certain victory in this conflict is guaranteed to be followed by genocide that may well outdo that of 1915, when the Young Turk government oversaw the murder of 1.5 million Armenians.
Trump’s action constitutes a shameful betrayal of the Kurds, who have lost 12,000 men fighting side by side with Americans and their allies. But ethics aside, the US finds itself in a precarious position.
For Turkey is America’s ally too, a fellow member of NATO. In that capacity she’s open to the kind of invective Trump reserves for America’s friends.
In this case, Mr Trump justified his decision to abandon the Kurds by threatening to “obliterate” Turkey’s economy if she went “off limits”. He demanded that Turkey “not do anything outside of what we would think is humane”.
If he thinks such threats will cut much ice with Turkey, he doesn’t know much about the country’s history, people and government. In any case, even if Erdogan heeds the warning, he won’t necessarily be able to contain the enthusiasm of Turkish commanders and their men.
However, should Trump’s administration indeed try to hurt Turkey economically, her northern neighbour, Putin’s Russia, will happily step in to make up any shortfalls. And that, speaking in coldblooded strategic terms, will be the worst consequence of Trump’s action.
No doubt his friend Vlad Putin is grinning like the Cheshire Cat: well-done, Donald. Yet again. Knew I could count on you.
Ever since joining the war in Syria, Putin has been playing dozens of ends against the middle, trying to become the dominant player in the region. To that end, Russia has been cultivating both Iran and Turkey, whose feelings for each other lack excessive warmth.
Should the Turkish offensive develop as clearly planned, Turkey would act as Putin’s proxy, his battering ram in the Middle East. And Vlad has been running Erdogan in the best traditions of the KGB/FSB, his sponsoring organisation.
Back in July, Turkey took delivery of Russia’s state-of-the-art AA missile systems S-400, brushing aside NATO’s objections that the weapons weren’t compatible with NATO’s. It’s certain that Russian armaments will now flow into Turkey in a mighty stream.
This development threatens to compromise NATO’s southern flank more than it’s already compromised – but then again, Mr Trump rarely makes an effort to conceal his contempt for that organisation. And of course his friend Vlad hates it with an unmitigated passion.
After all, it was NATO that was instrumental in what Putin calls “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”, the breakup of the Soviet Union, which Vlad is desperately trying to reverse.
Southward expansion, gaining a foothold at the Straits, has been the strategic objective of the Russian empire since the 18th century at least. After all, the possibilities of expanding eastwards are limited and northwards, non-existent.
Catherine II (now featuring in a staggeringly awful TV series) explained why. “It’s good that we have the Arctic Ocean on our north,” she once said. “Otherwise we’d run out of soldiers.”
The west is another promising direction, and Putin’s aggression against the Ukraine again follows an imperial pattern of long standing. But it’s southward expansion that’s seen as the most immediately promising move towards the restoration of the Russian Empire, this time run by its secret police.
I’m not going to speculate on the nature of the friendship between Trump and Putin. It’s immaterial whether Trump acquiesces in Putin’s policies willingly or under duress. What’s vital is that he does acquiesce in them, and that – as a minimum – he doesn’t see a KGB-run Russia as the global threat she is.
One thing to be said for Trump is that he didn’t create the current mess in the Middle East. That honour belongs to George W. Bush, with his 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Egged on by his neocon advisers, with their incendiary rhetoric about nation building and bringing US-style democracy to every tribal society on earth, Bush stirred up a hornet’s nest, and the hornets flew out on cue, stinging millions.
That madness had to end somehow, but the trouble was that no sensible exit was immediately obvious. However, there’s nothing sensible about Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds. It’s at best ill-advised and at worst it can be catastrophic.