On Thursday, the Turkish parliament authorized the government of Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Davutoglu to undertake other military actions against Syria. In a bellicose speech to a crowd in Istanbul, Erdogan said that “those who attempt to test Turkey’s deterrence, its decisiveness, its capacity, I say here they are making a fatal mistake… we are not interested in war, but we’re not far from war either. This nation has come to where it is today having gone through intercontinental wars.”
This tragic situation raises the perspective of a fratricidal war between Turks and Syrian Arabs, something from which only the United States, the British, NATO, and Israel could benefit. Such a war would validate warnings issued over the last 18 months that the destabilization of Syria could well repeat the role of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 as a kind of dress rehearsal and detonator for a much larger and more ruinous conflict.
Russia and other partners of both Turkey and Syria have repeatedly called for restraint on both sides, and it is the duty of all persons of good will across the world to join in these appeals. As a friend of Turkey, the present writer certainly does so. In the course of separate visits to Ankara and Istanbul in 1987 organized with the help of the late Minister of State Adnan Kahveci, I interviewed Prime Minister Turgut Ozal, Foreign Minister Vahit Melih Halefoglu, Defense Minister Zeki Yavuzturk, and Housing and Construction Minister Safa Giray, who at that time was directing the construction of the great Ataturk Dam. A second trip allowed me to interview Bedrettin Darlan, the Mayor of Istanbul, who was carrying out important public works for his city. In those days, no foreign visitor could fail to be impressed by the rapid economic progress being realized by Turkey.
But now, these and other accomplishments are in grave danger because of misguided ambition. Turkey has allowed its territory to be used as a staging area for personnel and logistics deployed by NATO and the reactionary Persian Gulf monarchies for the destabilization of Syria. This exceedingly unwise policy has damaged Turkish foreign policy, increased dependence on the United States, set in motion an internal destabilization, and brought Turkey closer to a futile and self-destructive war.
Iranian officials like Ali Akbar Velayati and General Firoozabadi are certainly correct to describe the current crisis between Turkey and Syria as the direct result of machinations by the United States and its satellites. The essence of the Obama foreign policy is to turn away whenever possible from the expensive and risky massive bombings and conventional military invasions of the Bush-Cheney era, and to attempt if feasible to play off independence-minded allies (such as Turkey) against countries like Syria, which are aligned with Russia, Iran, China, or others which the Wall Street elites insist on seeing as adversaries. The strategy is called buck-passing, and this is what Obama means by leading from behind. France was allowed to take the lead against Libya. Now, instead of the US bombing Syria, the intent is to shift the burden of that disastrous war onto Turkey.
In the spring of 2010, Turkey had signaled a desire to play a constructive role in world affairs and justifiably to assert its own growing importance by joining with Brazil in an attempt to mediate the nuclear dispute between Iran and the NATO bloc. This shocked and alarmed foreign policy elites in Washington and London, because it represented two new economic powers impinging on a domain which had previously been jealously guarded by the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus a few others.
In March 2011, Turkey appeared initially unhappy with the initiation of NATO bombing against Libya. Turkey correctly resented French President Sarkozy because of his prominent role in sabotaging the Turkish request to join the European Union. But at some point in the spring of 2011, Turkey appeared to shift policy and close ranks with the United States. Part of this was doubtless the result of a direct intervention by Obama, who was reportedly on the telephone with Prime Minister Erdogan more often than with any other foreign leader. What promises Obama must have made! Turkey’s important financial and trade ties with Saudi Arabia represent another possible channel of negative influence, perhaps backed up by those sectors of the Muslim Brotherhood closest to Riyadh. Obama is likely to have offered Erdogan the role of chief US satrap in the Middle East, a rule which the destabilization of Egypt and the internal weakness of Saudi Arabia had put up for grabs. This strategy would have fed into the neo-Ottoman orientation of Foreign Minister Davutoglu.
Future research will be necessary to pinpoint the exact date on which the Turkish volte-face in favor of greater subservience to Washington occurred. Although the initial decision appears to have regarded Libya, Turkey almost simultaneously began supporting forces intent on interfering in Syria.
As the author of two books on Obama, it is my duty to inform the Turkish government that promises made by the current tenant of the White House are inherently worthless. Obama’s entire method is founded on deception, dissembling, and treachery. The public employees of Wisconsin, the teachers of Chicago, the Latinos, labor unions, and the American black community can all confirm that Obama cannot be trusted. His commitments are written in water.
Turkey’s current rulers imagine that their wisdom exceeds that of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, but they are mistaken. Opinions on Ataturk vary widely, but history suggests that he was correct in asserting that Turkey could not survive as the Ottoman Empire, but could succeed and prosper as a national state on the Anatolian peninsula. In 2012 as in 1918, the attempt to reassert the Ottoman Empire could only lead to disaster.
Last November, I heard a very cogent analysis of the Turkish situation from the Lebanese statesman, General Michel Aoun. Aoun pointed out that it was reckless for Turkey to conjure up a large-scale destabilization in a next door neighbor like Syria. He noted that almost 20% of the Turkish population are Kurds, and there is also a significant Alawite minority. In addition, Turkey is almost evenly divided between Moslem and secular forces. This is hardly a promising basis from which to launch foreign wars.
Unfortunately, the Turkish government has taken the lead in making the Turco-Syrian border area into a war zone by hosting the bases and logistical backup for the NATO death squads which are the principal factor in the Syrian destabilization. Almost by mechanical necessity, the more the destabilization of Syria grows, the greater the tendency of the Syrian Kurds to join their US-supplied Iraqi counterparts in an attempt to create a Kurdish state through military means. This attempt is not likely to turn out well, including for the Kurds. But for Turkey the obvious path to defusing this crisis is to call a halt to incursions into Syria by NATO backed guerrilla fighters and send these foreign fighters home.
Amid rumors of war, a diplomatic reception occurred in Washington, DC on Thursday evening. The occasion was the departure of Kazakhstan Ambassador Erlan Idrissov, who had just been promoted to foreign minister of his country and was leaving the next day for Moscow to join the delegation led by President Nazarbayev visiting there. Among those present were US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Eurasian Affairs, and the raucous Indiana Republican Congressman Dan Burton. A sampling of opinion among the military attachés, including those of Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation, suggested that there was no visible reason on the ground for the Turco-Syrian conflict to escalate.
Turkish Ambassador to Washington Namik Tan replied to questions about this situation from a reporter in sober and measured terms, noting that the shooting was now quieting down. He indicated that Syrian Foreign Minister Muallem had provided an apology along with satisfactory assurances that the incidents would not be repeated. Turkey was inclined to accept this apology. He also noted the strong support Turkey has been receiving from NATO allies, and that more support for the Turkish position was expected from the United Nations. Asked about possible attempts by Obama to goad Turkey into a wider conflict, he stressed that Turkey would always put its own national interests first. When queried about the possibility that the anti-Assad guerrillas might be firing into Turkey in order to provoke an escalation, he stated that the Turkish government was well aware of this possibility, but that, in this specific case, this hypothesis did not appear to apply.
This informal survey suggests that the impulse towards escalation is coming neither from military facts on the ground, nor from inside the Turkish government. Remarkably, the mood at the Kazakhstan reception, with many Eurasian powers represented, was much calmer than the anti-Syrian hysteria which dominates the US news media. The likely explanation is that the push for war is indeed coming from Obama and Hillary Clinton, doubtless seconded by Prime Minister David Cameron and the British Foreign Office. With polls showing that only 18% of the Turkish population is willing to entertain a conflict with Damascus, the world is hoping that peace can be restored between Turkey and Syria.