Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria is not going as Recep Tayyip Erdogan had hoped. Turkey and its Islamist allies might have gained some territory and Kurdish forces may have committed to withdrawing from the border area, but Turkey finds itself increasingly isolated and dependent on Russia’s objectives, whereas the Kurds have won international sympathy and their leaders are in talks with the Americans, the Russians and the Syrian government.
In exchange for some territory in Syria, Turkey is losing ground on far more important fronts. The House of Representatives resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide by the Turks in 1915-16 (with 405 votes in favor and three against), proves that Ankara’s influence in Washington is in free fall. Decades of impassioned efforts by the Armenians of America had not succeeded in achieving this. And then, suddenly, it was adopted almost unanimously. Erdogan managed to unite the fractious political system of the United States against Turkey.
From keen Republican supporters of Donald Trump to Democratic senators hoping to unseat him, members of both parties condemn the US betrayal of the Kurds and the crimes committed by Turkish troops and their allies, while looking for ways to show their displeasure. On the same day that the Armenian genocide resolution was passed, the House agreed to impose sanctions on Turkey, again almost unanimously.
The wave of sympathy for the Kurds, who played a major role in the dismantling of the so-called Islamic State and the death of its leader, is a most serious blow to Turkey, as its policy relies on insisting that Kurdish separatists in Turkey (and hence their brethren in Syria) are terrorists.
Now it is the Turks who are accused of terrorism, while seeing the military leader of the Syrian Kurds, General Mazloum Kobani, negotiating with Americans and Russians.
On Thursday, Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the most zealous of Trump’s supporters, declared, “If Turkish aggression against Tal Tamir and Kobani, Christian and Kurdish areas, continues, it will sever what’s left of the US Congress-Turkish relationship.”
In the short term, the tension with the United States may favor Erdogan in domestic politics. But the Armenian genocide resolution proves that today Turkey has lost so much political capital in Washington that it can neither threaten damage to ties nor plead for understanding. This, however, should not put anyone at ease: The more Erdogan loses, the more he seeks victory on other fronts.