Here are what I think are the three most likely, and also most deadly, potential outcomes of the President’s premature pull back in Syria so that Erdogan can go after the Kurds and establish his buffer zone/expand his border into Syria. There are not in any specific order, but all of them are bad.
- Erdogan gets himself bogged down in Syria trying to set up his 30 mile buffer zone. Putin then decides he’s going to tighten the screws and both actual Russia military personnel and Wagner mercenaries come into conflict with Turkish forces and, as a result, Erdogan needs help and decides to invoke Article 5 of the NATO Charter. This places the US and the rest of NATO in the position of either responding to the Article 5 invocation or fracturing NATO because no one wants to support an increasingly erratic and authoritarian Erdogan. Also, no one really knows how competent the Turkish military is right now given that Erdogan has purged the military of his perceived opponents.
- The ISIS detainees currently held by the SDF are cut loose by the SDF because they can’t detain them and fight for survival at the same time. They go into the wind, which exponentially increases the ISIS threat through the Middle East, Central Asia, Europe, and Africa.
- It sets off a new wave of refugees. This has the ability to destabilize Lebanon and Jordan. And it will further increase the neo-nationalist and neo-fascist pressures in Europe that are built around an anti-immigrant and anti-refugee attitudes, which will increase the pressure on most of our NATO allies, as well as on the European Union.
Full disclosure: In May 2016 I prepared and gave the keynote strategic assessment of the regional and geo-strategic problem set in the Levant for the commanding general, command group, senior staff, and as much as the rest of the staff they could shoe horn into the auditorium of XVIII Airborne Corps as they were preparing to take over as the commend element of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve. And I have provided ongoing strategic advice as needed/requested to senior US military personnel at echelons above brigade deployed to Operation Inherent Resolve.