Over-Eager To Please ‘Allies,’ Turkey Between a Rock and Hard Place

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was among the first to embrace the rebels seeking to overthrow the Syrian government. Turning his back on a long-time ally and on his country’s well-established foreign policy emphasis on peace over war and provocation (most famously demonstrated in Turkey’s refusal to allow US military fly-over to attack Iraq), Erdogan became so eager to please his US and Israeli friends that he pulled his country aboard the regime change express and set the course for Syria. Turkey established a safe haven for the “Free Syrian Army” on its soil and turned a blind eye to the trans-shipment of weapons and, according to Stratfor emails obtained by Wikileaks, US and other special forces troops entering Syria to overthrow the regime.

Now, as reports the extremely valuable Lebanese Al Akhbar website, many in Turkey are increasingly worried that it was all a terrible mistake with as-yet unknown repercussions for Turkey in general and Erdogan in particular.

Backed up against a wall, Turkey has responded as most governments unfortunately do: by doubling down on a bad bet. Earlier this month Erdogan called for a “humanitarian corridor” in Syria, which is a polite-sounding way of calling for Libya, Part II. Absent a UN resolution, which will not be forthcoming thanks to the Russians and Chinese standing up for the national sovereignty that is enshrined in the UN Charter but ignored in this new age of “Responsibility to Protect,” Turkey’s call rang hollow as no one expects the massive Turkish invasion of Syria that would be necessary to establish a Benghazi Republic in Syria.

Further complicating matters for Turkey’s current leaders, Turkey’s arch-nemesis Kurdish separatist PKK has vowed that any Turkish invasion of Kurdish parts of Syria would result in “all of Kurdistan [turning] into a war zone.”

But the backlash in Turkey once its leaders’ foolish bravado has been fully exposed may fully erupt recriminations that are already bubbling up. “Turkey had better revise its policy toward its southern neighbor, ahead of the second gathering of the Friends of Syria group on April 1 in Istanbul, by placing diplomatic efforts in front of all other options,” wrote the Hurriyet Daily News last week in a highly recommended editorial titled “Time to Revise Syria Policy.” Additionally, Turkey’s belligerence toward Syria has resulted in a modest influx of Sunni refugees that could well turn into a tidal wave should outside interventionism in the conflict increase. Already some minorities in Turkey close to Syria’s Alawites are becoming restive, and Turkey’s main opposition Republic People’s Party has begun to exploit the ruling Justice and Development Party-led government’s blunders on Syria for political gain.

Absent a US-led “Friends of Syria” invasion, with its GCC lackeys tagging along with their pom poms, the rebellion in Syria has peaked. With each Syrian security force advance against the armed rebels we are seeing the rebels resort to terrorism in response, demonstrating their severe limitations as a credible fighting force. It is an act of desperation brazen in its disregard for civilian life — a disregard that has been long noticed by objective observers of the rebellion and recently even recognized by humanitarian intervention-friendly majors like Human Rights Watch, which last week released a report titled “Syria: Armed Opposition Groups Committing Abuses.” Rebel targeting of the civilian population with acts of terrorism are having the likely-unintended consequence of turning even regime critics against the revolt.

While former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan may be a flawed candidate for the role of architect of Syrian peace, the fact remains that the proposals he is presenting to help end the conflict represent a far more realistic approach than that of the US/NATO and its UN Security Council allies thus far. Though US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Obama regime have weakly attempted to put their best spin on Annan’s efforts (Clinton: “a positive step”; Susan Rice: “modest step”), the fact remains that his proposal represents a significant climb-down from the US/Turk/Allied ridiculous demands that the Syrian president step down after ordering his troops to unilaterally cede their weapons to the rebels. Syrian President Assad has indicated his willingness to negotiate as called for in Annan’s plan; the rebels have in the main rejected any non-military solution.

It would be ironic to see the Turkish government hoist by its own petard, but by falling in with a bad crowd the too-eager-to-please Erdogan may well wish he had stuck with the very wise non-interventionist instinct that led Turkey to reject US bombers in 2003. Sometimes the best friend is the one who says “no.”

8:39 am on March 23, 2012
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