U.S. President Barack Obama gave an interview to the BBC during his visit to the U.K., and, thanks to this, we learned a lot about his ideas on the future of the civil war in Syria.
First of all, Obama pointed out he only has nine months left in office and said he did not think DAESH would be defeated within that time. He simply suggested that in the coming months the coalition can only shrink the environment in which DAESH operates.
It is interesting to see that almost all the great powers are, at this very moment, fighting DAESH, yet seem incapable of defeating it. How is it that a vast coalition that includes Bashar Assad's regime, Russia, the U.S., the EU, Iran, Turkey and other local players cannot manage to defeat one armed group? If the entire world is against this organization, who is behind it? Extraterrestrials?
In the light of Obama's statements, we must speculate that the U.S. does not want to eradicate DAESH right now. In other words, DAESH has not yet accomplished what is expected of it.
After it appeared, by its actions and by the horror it provoked among the public, DAESH pulled the Russian military into the Syrian war; has made the U.S. send additional troops and advisers to Iraq; has pushed Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey away from the Syrian equation and made the Kurds an essential player in Syria and Iraq. Perhaps DAESH still has a role to play, as the great powers have not yet decided how to resolve the conflict in Syria.
In the interview, Obama said that it would be a mistake to send ground troops in to overthrow the Assad regime. And as he said, military efforts alone cannot solve the country's problems.
If the U.S. or any other Western power had the intention to launch a ground operation in Syria, they would have done so a long time ago, preventing a lot of massacres. But as of today, nobody is talking about an intervention and the U.S. seems to agree that Assad will remain in power for some time unless the international community can broker some kind of transition.
It was significant that Obama said this while in the U.K. Maybe the British government has insisted on a Western ground operation in Syria to offset Russia's dominance; an operation either through a coalition of the willing or through NATO.
In the case of a ground operation, there is no doubt Turkey would play an essential role. The Turkish military could enter into Syria under the auspices of NATO or allow a number of NATO troops to use its territory. Either way, Turkey would be the most exposed country to risks and threats. However, to enter is one thing, but being able to leave is another. Turkish troops in Syria would not have to fight only against Syrian regime forces, but also against the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party's (PYD) People's Protection Units (YPG) forces. If you add DAESH to this too, the equation turns out to be even more complicated because they too are fighting against the PYD.
But perhaps the biggest concern looming above any ground operation aiming to overthrow the Assad regime is the inevitable reaction from Russia.
We do not know if Turkey would be supported by NATO if it were to enter Syria. Maybe the U.K. expects Turkey to face all risks, including Russia's rage. Maybe it asked Obama to persuade Ankara to go in, and maybe Obama was replying to this request through his BBC interview. But we can only speculate.
Back in the years when Western states were discussing whether or not to accept Turkey into NATO, the U.K. had a totally different plan for Turkey; maybe those plans are still on the table. Having a good memory always helps.