It took just a week for the map of the Syrian war to be overhauled – after US President Donald Trump used what he called "great and unmatched wisdom" to order the withdrawal of US troops from the north.
By abandoning US allied Syrian Kurds to their own devices, Trump set off a series of events, opening up a range of opportunities for Turkey; to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies, Russia and Iran; and to the jihadists of the extremist group called the Islamic State.
Eight years of war in Syria affected and changed the Middle East. And last week there was another turning point. Perhaps President Trump's wisdom helped him foresee events. Or perhaps the habit of following your instincts is a serious mistake when it comes to the endless complexities of the Middle East.
For years, it was clear that Syria's fate would be decided by foreigners, not by Syrians themselves. Repeated interventions sustained and escalated the war. Writing about the dispute for influence and power in Syria must begin with the victims of the war. Every military crunch means tragedy and often the death of civilians.
Watching videos of their suffering should be mandatory for leaders who give the orders. It is not difficult to find these images on the internet and on television.
President Trump's decision to withdraw the US from what he called the "endless war" gave Turkey the green light to send troops to Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his target was the Kurds of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDS), who are allies of their own Kurdish rebels. His plan is to control both sides of the northeastern border of Syria and establish an occupation zone of about 20 miles – where he wants to send a million or more Syrian refugees.
Syrian military arrives in Ain Issa city, October 14, 2019 – Photo: Press Release / Sana / Reuters
When the United States decided to equip and train Syrian Kurds, as well as some Arabs, to combat the Islamic State, they were aware of a potential problem: their future Kurdish allies were considered terrorists by Turkey, an ally of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). ). Washington has turned a blind eye to a problem that could be thrown into the future. Now the future has come – and it has been blown up.
A week ago, a small number of US military personnel were the tangible symbol of what appeared to be a security guarantee for Syrian Kurds, who became vital allies in the war against extremist jihadists in the Islamic State.
The Kurds fought and died on the ground, while the US, the UK and other countries provided airpower and special forces troops. When the Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate fell, the Kurds mobilized and arrested thousands of jihadist fighters.
But just as it took President Trump to send a few tweets, Syrian Kurds were forced to acknowledge that they had been abandoned, causing dismay in the US military.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper denied that the Kurds had been abandoned. But with the advance of the Turks and the withdrawal of the Americans, that was not what the Syrian Kurds felt. Once again in their troubled history, they became disposable allies of a foreign power. And they turned to their former enemies in Damascus.
On Sunday, the Kurds announced a deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, agreeing that their troops could advance to the area that had not been controlled by Damascus since 2012, very close to the border with Turkey.
A cloud of smoke is seen in the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain on the Turkish side of the Ceylanpinar border in Sanliurfa district in the first week of Turkish military operation against the Kurdish forces. – Photo: Ozan Kose / AFP
This is a great victory for the regime. The troops quickly left their bases in the northeast of the country. Assad's supporters dug up the regime's flags.
It was a disastrous day for American politics in the Middle East. The alliance with the Kurds and the security guarantee that protected their autonomous territory in Syria gave the Americans a stake in the end of the war.
It was also a way of pressuring supporters of the Assad regime: Russia and Iran. The withdrawal of the Americans and the advance of the Syrian Army are also a victory for them.
New opportunities seem to be opening for the extremist jihadists of the Islamic State. In the Telegram messaging app, they declared a new campaign of violence in Syria. Although they lost their territory, the "caliphate", those who were not arrested or killed recovered in sleeping cells to carry out guerrilla attacks.
Now, with the Kurds reeling, they see a chance to free the thousands of fighters detained in Kurdish prisons. Some are notorious killers who can pose a serious threat if they are carrying weapons and bombs again – not just in Syria, but elsewhere.
Legitimately, Western governments are getting nervous about a new threat from the Islamic State.
European governments, worried that Middle East problems are knocking on their door, are urging Turkey to stop the offensive.
Some NATO members see a nightmare scenario unfolding, with Syria, backed by Russian power, potentially facing NATO member Turkey. The Russians say they are in regular contact with Turkey.
But in a fluid and violent war zone, the chances of misperceptions, errors and aggravation are always present.
Perhaps what happened last week simplifies the end of the war in Syria. Two great actors, the Americans and the Kurds, appear to be out of the picture – while President Assad, along with his allies, Russia and Iran, continues to solidify his victory.