US opposition almost certain to deter Erdogan from trying to change the military balance in Syria by direct Turkish military intervention
As the military position of the Syrian rebels in north west Syria becomes critical the media has hummed with speculation that Erdogan will order the Turkish military into Syria.
I do not know what is going to happen, and in what I am going to say there is a strong possibility I may be proved wrong.
However on balance I think a Turkish invasion of Syria is unlikely. If it does happen I think it will be on such a small scale it will make no difference.
Unfortunately I cannot be certain of this because of one key factor of uncertainty, which is Erdogan himself.
As I have said recently,the real Putin bears little relation to the comic strip villain who bears his name and who one reads about in the Western media.
Whereas the real Putin is a highly calculating man who consults widely and makes decisions only after painstaking preparation, Erdogan is a far more impulsive and whimsical man who is far more likely to make a decision by himself without properly thinking it through.
A classic example of the difference between the two men is the way they each reacted to the Turkish shoot down of the Russian SU24 back in November.
Reports coming out of Russia say that Putin was warned by the Russian military that Erdogan had ordered the Turkish airforce to look for an opportunity to shoot down a Russian aircraft.
As a highly rational man Putin rejected the warnings because he could not believe Erdogan would do something so obviously counterproductive and stupid.
Putin seriously underestimated the idiosyncratic way Erdogan makes decisions.
Putin’s all too obvious anger after the shoot down was partly a result of the anger he felt towards himself for disregarding the warnings given to him by his military.
As for Erdogan, it is clear that he completely misjudged the strength of the Russian reaction and the lack of support he would get from his NATO allies. He has been desperately trying to mend fences with Putin ever since, and seems genuinely baffled that Putin refuses to speak to him.
When dealing with a character as impulsive as Erdogan predictions about what he might do in any given situation are all but impossible.
Unfortunately that means there is a high possibility he will go for broke and - rather than accept the failure of his Syrian policy - will send in his army to try to prevent it.
Erdogan however is not the only or the most important player.
Even Erdogan must realise that the Turkish military is no match for Russia. That must make it unlikely he will send his army into Syria - and risk disaster there - unless he is sure the US and NATO back him.
It is because of this that I doubt a Turkish invasion will take place.
The biggest nightmare for the US and NATO is a military confrontation between Turkey and Russia where their treaty obligations require them to back Turkey but where the Western public overwhelmingly backs Russia.
That is precisely the situation they are now facing.
Though there has been a relentless barrage of criticism in the Western media and from Western governments of the Russian military campaign in Syria, the Western public is not buying it - a fact that becomes immediately obvious from even cursory glance at any thread of any article about Syria that appears in the Western press.
The shocking violence of the jihadi terrorists in Syria - and of their comrades who have recently rampaged around Europe - has simply made too strong an impression for the Western public to be persuaded that they are the good guys.
Even the attempt to manipulate the refugee flows to stir sympathy for the rebel cause in Syria has disastrously backfired on the Western politicians who tried to do it.
No Western leader needs reminding of the disaster done to Tony Blair’s reputation by his backing of a war in the Middle East that a large proportion of the British public opposed, and no Western leader wants to experience the humiliation Obama, Hollande and Cameron suffered in 2013 when their attempt to bomb Syria ran into overwhelming opposition from the Western public.
The idea of ending up in a shooting war with the Russians in a conflict in Syria where the Western public overwhelmingly backs the Russians simply doesn’t bear thinking about.
This must be especially true in the US in what is an election year. The Obama administration is pulling out all the stops to get Hillary Clinton elected, and emphatically does not want a foreign policy debacle in the Middle East that can only deliver the White House to the Republicans.
In light of all this I think it is a virtual certainty that the phone lines to Ankara over the last few days have been buzzing with calls from anxious Western leaders urging Erdogan to show restraint.
The fact US Secretary of State Kerry seems to have criticised the rebel walkout from the peace talks in Geneva all but confirms it.
With any person other than Erdogan that would suffice. However the person involved is Erdogan so unfortunately one cannot be so sure.
Having said that on balance I think Erdogan is still sufficiently in touch with reality for the counsels of restraint to prevail.
The next few days or weeks will show whether or not I am right.
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