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Turkey’s Endgame in Syria

What Erdogan Wants

A Turkish military convoy near the Turkish-Syrian border, October 2019 Mehmet Ali Dag/ Ihlas News Agency / Reuters

In a stunning announcement on Sunday, the Trump administration gave the nod to a Turkish military incursion into northeastern Syria, an operation that would entail clashes with Washington’s Kurdish allies in the area. The U.S. military, which has around 1,000 troops in Syria, would not “support or be involved in the operation.” But the White House said it would pull back U.S. forces stationed near the Syrian-Turkish border to clear the way for Ankara’s troops.

Facing an intense backlash even among Republicans, Trump seemed to backpedal on Monday. But Turkish army units stand ready at the Syrian border, and Washington’s exhortations are unlikely to keep Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from giving them the green light. This is because Turkey’s strategy is more than an exercise in geopolitics—for Erdogan, the war touches on his very political survival.

In fact, Turkey’s Syria policy has

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