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March 07, 2012, Wednesday

Syria’s barbarians must be stopped

The author of this column has been advocating an intervention in Syria since last August. This has been the case not because I am in favor of external interventions all over the globe or because I have a particular dislike for the Syrian regime. Apart from the ethical and humanitarian argument, my primary point of departure is that Turkey, which has been using ambitious language at the regional level, such as “order establishing nation,” cannot tolerate a situation such as that in Syria.

Turkey must behave in such a manner that it is seen as a deciding factor in the resolution of the crisis in Syria. Turkey cannot afford to be seen as a country that is hesitating or is having cold feet in the face of hard security risks. Of course, I am writing these lines in view of the strong language we have been using for months now. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been calling for holding the Syrian regime responsible for months. President Abdullah Gül and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s statements have been equally strong. In the absence of a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution Turkey needs to lead the efforts to form an international coalition that would act (1) to stop the bloodshed in Syria, (2) provide humanitarian aid to the victims there and (3) help facilitate the transition to a post-Bashar al-Assad order. What sort of international coalition are we talking about here: It must include the US and the Europeans -- especially Britain, France and Germany. Most importantly, there should be regional ownership in the form of the Arab League or individual Arab countries. With a border of 910 kilometers with Syria Turkey would be an indispensable actor in such an endeavor. Do I think this is likely? Unfortunately not.

I have been in contact with a number of friends who have close contact with Washington. What we hear is not very encouraging. The US wants to pull out of Afghanistan and Iraq and thus has no appetite for a new adventure, especially in an election year. While Foggy Bottom seems to be more in favor of a more robust US role, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue thinks otherwise. The Republicans are pushing for more but they also seem to recognize that the administration is unlikely to do more than arming the opposition.

The tension between Turkey and France over the ill-timed Armenian bill is complicating any sort of cooperation at another level. The countries with which Turkey is speaking the same language are rather limited. The Tunis meeting highlighted the differences between the concerned parties. Prime Minister Erdoğan called for the establishment of a humanitarian corridor this week -- but how, with whom and what we will do if the corridor is attacked by the Syrians are important questions. I am all for it but I am also very pessimistic that a “coalition of the willing” could actually be formed and act decisively in Syria. The barbarians in Damascus have a free hand. They are killing the opposition one by one without any fear of intervention from the outside. The lightly armed opposition has no chance whatsoever against the brutal killing machine at work.

Turkey must take the leadership to form this coalition before it is too late. I hope Erdoğan’s call for a humanitarian corridor will turn into a concrete action plan at the İstanbul meeting of the Friends of Syria later this month. As Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote last month, “power stems not just from size, strategic location, a strong economy, able diplomacy, and military capacity. It also requires the will to act -- the understanding that true leadership means the courage to take and implement even decisions that are deeply unpopular in some quarters.” We cannot return to the status quo ante and therefore have no option but to stop the barbarians in Syria.

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