Turkey Enters Fight Against ISIS, But Target is Still Assad

  July 29, 2015

Turkey Enters Fight Against ISIS, But Target is Still Assad

With Turkey's announcement that it will fight ISIS, the US will be able to use Turkish bases to fulfill its mission of overthrowing Assad, says Col. Larry Wilkerson
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Lawrence Wilkerson is a retired United States Army soldier and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson is an adjunct professor at the College of William & Mary where he teaches courses on US national security. He also instructs a senior seminar in the Honors Department at the George Washington University entitled "National Security Decision Making."


Turkey Enters Fight Against ISIS, But Target is Still AssadJESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

On Tuesday Turkey called an emergency session of NATO, saying they will be joining the fight against the Islamic State and it will be working with the U.S. to create an ISIS-free safe zone between the border of Syria and Turkey. But in this fight against Terrorism the Turks have included the pro-Kurdish independence group the PKK, which has been one of the most instrumental and effective groups in fighting ISIS. So with all this news, we want to know if the U.S. is entangling itself in another conflict in Turkey without coming much closer to defeating ISIS.

Now joining us to help us answer this question is Larry Wilkerson. He is the former secretary of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, and a regular guest on the Real News. Thanks for joining us, Larry.


DESVARIEUX: So Larry, let's quickly talk about this safe zone. How much of this ISIS-free zone is about ISIS, or how much of this is really about defeating the pro-Kurd, independence Kurdish movement?

WILKERSON: I don't think you'll ever find Erdogan and [Ankara] in general giving up on that goal. But it's important what you said, PKK. That does not have to mean the entire Kurdish nation, as it were. It just means those elements which are terrorist within its midst, or that the Turks consider to be terrorist.

I think this was a combination of things that made Erdogan want to come back into the fold, if you will. He's not been too good a NATO member. And that was beginning to haunt Turkey a bit I think, on the foreign policy, security policy scene. And he's been more or less limited in the recent elections by his significant loss in parliamentary majority. So he had to reconsider things. And I think on the foreign policy scene, as I said, he had to become a more responsible NATO member.

And I think from Ankara's point of view, Erdogan's point of view, he thinks he's gotten both things he needs to do. He's asserting his NATO membership in good fashion, if you will, by going after ISIS. And at the same time he's not foreclosing the option of going after the PKK.

DESVARIEUX: But Larry, if the Kurds were so successful in fighting ISIS, in particular in Syria and in Iraq where Kurdish groups are being seen as the most effective ground troops in the battle against ISIS, is this deal in reality going to actually help defeat ISIS? I mean, essentially if you were so concerned about fighting ISIS why would you then throw your support to a power that is going to be undermining the group that's really been on the front lines?

WILKERSON: I think if Turkey's serious--there are two answers to your question. One is the one I just gave, this is a political solution for Erdogan and we aren't going to see a bit of change on the ground, not really. Or two, he's serious about ISIS and being a responsible NATO member. And if you're talking about forces to oppose ISIS and the most powerful amongst those forces, Turks on the ground would lead the list. Not the PKK, and not the Kurds in general.

So if he's really serious about it and if he's willing to put Turks on the ground to fight ISIS then we've got a different military situation. In fact, I predict we've got one that if he does that, we'll see the end of the formidable aspects, if you will, and I don't think there are too many formidable aspects to ISIS, within the next year. It'll remain to be seen how serious he is, and we'll see if he does in fact create this zone and how big it is. Because if you say the zone's on the border, it could be a kilometer. It could be two kilometers, which is really not much. If it's on the border and it's 30 kilometers or 40 kilometers, or even 50 kilometers, that's serious territory and that's going to require some land forces.

DESVARIEUX: We should also mention that the U.S. has now access to Turkey's bases. Larry, do you think that this deal with Turkey, between Turkey and the United States, is really making it clear that toppling Assad is a higher priority than defeating ISIS? And if so, is this misguided?

WILKERSON: There you've got another issue. And you've struck upon an issue that demonstrates the incredible complexity of this civil war in Syria. Assad was not Mubarak, as I've said many times. He was going nowhere. He has the wealthy on his side, he has the majority of the military on his side, the majority of the business community on his side. Of course the [inaud.] on his side, who will be eradicated probably if he collapses, or at least they think so.

So this is a very complex situation. Assad is powerful, and the only way you're going to bring him down is if you do have some really other powerful entities going after him. And I'm sorry, but Saudi Arabia and people like that are simply not enough. Ankara could be enough. So you struck another dimension of this conflict that heightens its complexity. What is Erdogan's ultimate purpose? He hates Assad. He'd love to bring him down. Is that why he's doing this?

DESVARIEUX: And is it misguided, essentially though, too, Larry? Are we putting a lot of emphasis now on toppling Assad as opposed to even saying let's start to think about negotiations with Assad? Are we now just going all in and saying it's all about overthrowing Assad with this move?

WILKERSON: That's a tremendous question. I think you may be right. If you are right, I think it's a strategic disaster because I think the only way you're going to end the civil war in a fashion that accommodates multiple interests, which is an absolute necessity, is by accepting some sort of political solution that keep Assad around for a while. I don't see any other solution that is all-encompassing like that.

The other aspect is if you take Assad out, if you take him out dramatically as we did Saddam Hussein, be careful what you wish for. You may get it. What replaces Assad may be ten times worse than Assad.

So this is not a very smart decision if what you've said is true. What I've suggested about the complexity is true, that we're really after Assad.

DESVARIEUX: All right. Larry Wilkerson joining us from Falls Church, Virginia. Thank you so much for being with us.

WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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