Turkey’s Failed Syria Policy

24 June 2015
A week ago, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter and General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified before the House Armed Services Committee.
According to the Associated Press, the Secretary told the Committee that the U.S. will fall way short of meeting its goal of training 24,000 Iraqi forces to fight Islamic State militants by this autumn since only enough recruits to train about 7,000 — in addition to about 2,000 counterterrorism service personnel – has been received so far.
Carter said that the train-and-equip mission in Syria also lacks enough trainees to fill existing training sites, primarily because it’s difficult to make sure the recruits are people who can be counted on and are not aligned with groups like IS. “It turns out to be very hard to identify people who meet both of those criteria…” Carter said.
According to Reuters, General Dempsey told the Committee that the US and its allies are weighing the possibility that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, under growing military pressure, may soon narrow his focus on defense of more limited areas of the country.
“It’s generally the consensus there that, in the near term, it’s probably more likely that the regime … would go over to the defensive and limit its protection of the Alawite Shia and some of the minority groups,” Dempsey said, without himself predicting such an outcome. (Indeed, some observers explain the current picture with the ebb and flow pattern of the war.)
In a nutshell, on the one hand, Assad appears to be weakening and on the defensive but on the other hand, there are not enough “moderate” recruits for the train-and-equip program. It seems that moderation is a rare commodity in today’s Syria.
That Assad is now on the defensive should be welcome news for Turkey’s Justice and Development Party Government since his ousting has stood on top of the agenda sidelining national security, economy and foreign policy. Three years ago they predicted that Assad would go in months, if not weeks, and his hanging on to power has become an embarrassment.
Pivotal to Government’s position is the influx of the Syrian refugees. They purposefully make this the starting point of the war on Assad. “How could we even think of closing our doors to them?” they have said ever since. Of course, once refugees were at the border was little else to be done. But what if we had;
• refrained from organizing Syrian opposition meetings in Istanbul hotels and avoided rhetoric;
• kept our lines of communication open with both Damascus and the opposition;
• pursued a relentless search for a Syrian political solution by Syrians until this very day;
• advised Syria’s warring parties to exercise restraint to avoid/contain a humanitarian disaster;
• (failing to prevent a refugee influx) told the Assad regime and the opposition that Turkey would establish a safe-haven within Syria to provide for the refugees regardless of their political/religious affiliation; and,
• become a leading partner of the Geneva peace process?
Could all of that present us with a different picture today? Hard to tell, but we could have made a difference. Whatever the outcome, we could at least,
• be on the right side of the Syrian conflict;
• reduce our refugee burden;
• keep terrorist groups at a distance;
• prevent Turkey form becoming an alleged jihadist pipeline; and,
• enhance our position as a regional power.
The long-term outlook for the Syrian refugee issue should worry Turkish governments. Some of the refugees may indeed have escaped death by crossing the border but are now living in sad conditions. Should they ever go back to their country, they will not forget their days of misery in here. This is not a good investment in the future of Turkish-Syrian relations. Turkey’s Syria policy needs to be revised. At present neither Syria nor Turkish-Syrian relations seem to have a future.

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