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3 Mar, 2020 20:13

Impotent in Idlib: US pits Turkey & Russia against each other with ammo offer, but remains irrelevant in Syria

Impotent in Idlib: US pits Turkey & Russia against each other with ammo offer, but remains irrelevant in Syria

The US has offered to provide Turkey with ammunition to help resolve the ongoing crisis in Syria’s Idlib province. This proposal underscores the impotence and irrelevance of the US when it comes to Syria today.

Following high-level discussions with his Turkish counterparts in Ankara, US Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey told reporters that, while Turkey was pressing the US for humanitarian aid, Washington was prepared to offer it “ammunition” instead. 

Turkey is a NATO ally,” Jeffrey said. “We have a very, very big foreign military sales program. Much of the Turkish military uses American equipment. We will make sure that the equipment is ready.” This idea, Jeffrey noted, came from President Trump himself.

Also on rt.com US ‘willing’ to give Turkey ammo amid Ankara’s military standoff with Syrian army in Idlib

Jeffrey’s remarks come as Turkish President Recep Erdogan is preparing to travel to Moscow to meet with Vladimir Putin to discuss the devolving situation in Idlib and how best to prevent any escalation between Turkish and Russian forces. With reconciliation and deconfliction dominating the agenda, it is difficult to see how the American proposition could be seen by Turkey as anything other than counterproductive.

Jeffrey’s comment appears to be a byproduct of the total breakdown in interagency policy coordination within the Trump administration. This unwillingness and/or inability to produce coordinated policy comes at a time when the principle body responsible for such actions — the National Security Council — is undergoing what amounts to a purge of professional staff, especially veteran holdovers from the previous administration of Barack Obama.

Policy made in a vacuum is highly susceptible to influence by suggestion, especially when such a suggestion is made by the president. The Idlib crisis has prompted a Turkish request for military assistance in the form of two Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries, which would be deployed on Turkey’s border with Syria and used to help enforce a ‘no-fly’ zone designed to keep both Syrian and Russian aircraft from carrying out bombing missions over Idlib province.

The last time Turkey asked the US to provide Patriot missiles — during the Obama administration — Washington balked, leading Ankara to acquire advanced S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia. Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 sent its relationship with both the US and NATO into a tailspin, leading to the cancellation of Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program and a related reevaluation of its integration with NATO, especially when it comes to air defense.

Also on rt.com There are ‘no Patriots’ US could give Turkey, Erdogan says as its S-400s get prepped for deployment

Jeffrey has been pushing the Pentagon to dispatch the Patriot missiles to Turkey, but he has met with resistance from defense officials, who view such a move as not only inherently destabilizing, but in and of itself unlikely to alter either Russian or Syrian policies and actions in Idlib. The Pentagon, State Department officials have noted, is “resisting doing foolish things with real global ramifications.”

What Turkey has asked for is immediate humanitarian assistance to help alleviate the refugee crisis unfolding along its border with Syria. However, something which would otherwise have been viewed as a ‘no-brainer’ has itself become politicized, with Turkey opening its border with Greece and Europe to refugee traffic in a bid to compel Europe to intervene in Syria. 

Meanwhile, the US is going forward with a $108 million humanitarian support package for the people of northern Syria. This announcement was made on Tuesday by US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft during her visit to Idlib, where she met with the so-called ‘White Helmets’ group.

In light of this visit, America’s proposal to provide “ammunition” to Turkey appears to be very much a policy outlier, born more from off-the-cuff remarks made by President Trump than any coordinated interagency product. 

Trump appears susceptible to input from Fox News and from his political supporters, such as Senator Lindsey Graham. While the President’s Twitter feed has been free of any commentary about Turkey and Idlib, Senator Graham’s has not. 

Very much appreciate what Turkey is doing to stand with the people of Idlib, Syria”, Graham tweeted on Tuesday. “It is time for the world, including the United States, to declare a no-fly zone over Idlib before the humanitarian crisis escalates.” 

For good measure, Graham tweeted the following commentary: “Russia’s Putin and Syria’s Assad are behaving like war criminals.”

Graham’s call for a US-backed no-fly zone over Syria remains a non-starter. Under normal circumstances, so would the idea of providing ammunition. The reality is that Turkey is largely self-reliant when it comes to ammunition, possessing a very diverse and capable armaments industry. 

Moreover, the level of ammunition expenditure by the Turkish military does not come close to the tempo which would threaten the depletion of Turkish on-hand stocks. Even in the area of equipment, there is no ‘quick fix’ the US could provide that could help Turkey. 

For example, if the US wanted to replace Turkish armored vehicles lost on the battlefield, any tanks it provided would first need to undergo a lengthy and expensive upgrade and modification process, done in cooperation with Israel — which would preclude any such vehicles from being deployable for many months. 

While it is not known at this point what specifically triggered the president’s observation about providing ammunition, the US media has, for the past few days, been reporting on a Russian naval vessel loaded with weapons and munitions — including advanced tanks — bound from the Black Sea to Syria. 

Also on rt.com Idlib escalation: Turkey confirms it has downed Syrian fighter jet

President Trump resides in a world governed by transactional politics, where there is no such thing as a zero-sum game. Seen in this light, the offer to provide ammunition to Turkey is merely a knee-jerk reaction to Russia’s provision of arms and munitions to Syria, an act of short-term desperation to compensate for the fact that the US has no plan in place to deal with the unfolding crisis taking place in Syria today. 

By injecting itself into bilateral Turkish-Russian diplomacy at this late stage, the US hopes to play the role of disruptor. The reality is, all it has accomplished is to underscore its impotence and irrelevance.  

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.