Exactly one year ago I had a twitter exchange with Nuh Yılmaz on the situation in Syria. Those were the days when I was new at twitter and had no idea that our conversation was actually a public one. In any case, I argued then that Assad would not respond to diplomatic overtures and that the only way to convince Assad to change behavior was a military one. I received angry responses from many who followed the exchange. However, the simple truth -- that there is only a military solution to the Syrian crisis -- could not be more evident in view of recent events. One year ago, Turkey enjoyed a much more effective degree of deterrence. My argument that a swift and determined approach toward Assad -- similar to the one shown in 1998 -- would have been a wiser way to deal with him was swiftly dismissed. I stand by my words today. There was never any policy space between making the choice to support the Syrian people and Assad's minority regime there.
Today, we are effectively at war with Syria by supporting the political and armed opposition fighting the Assad regime. The Syrian regime is fighting back by helping and supporting PKK hard-liners who unleash havoc as was seen in Gaziantep over the Ramadan holiday. Now we have two options before us: (1) to fully and directly engage in the war effort and set up a no-fly zone and/or a buffer zone that would include a humanitarian corridor and thus speed up the downfall of Assad; or (2) to continue the indirect war effort by supporting the opposition, allowing logistic and weaponry to flow into Syria and hope for the job to be done by the Syrian opposition. Both options inevitably harbor enormous risks but also have important timeline implications, especially with an internal clock ticking down as local elections approach next year with the presidential election the following year. Needless to repeat, option 1 is problematic due to the months-long reluctance of the Obama administration to participate. Washington needs to move forward. There is no going back.
Option 2 avoids Turkey's direct confrontation with Syria and perhaps Iran, but it has already turned into a proxy war that has the potential to drag on for many more months, perhaps years. This option also has the inevitable consequence of strengthening the hard-line wing within the PKK and further complicating the already messy Kurdish issue we have on our hands. Both options involve casualties, be they civilian or military, but certainly casualties -- human and material. Option 1 also would allow us to eradicate the Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD) from its bases in northern Syria and control the situation there.
The Syrian crisis and the concomitant rise in PKK terror have bitterly reminded us of the need for a professional fighting force. It is inconceivable that after three decades of fighting against the PKK we are still fighting with non-professional forces. Whether we like it or not the Syrian crisis has turned into a regional imbroglio. We must bring an end to the Syrian crisis -- that can only be done through military means. Our government has the responsibility of holding to account those responsible for bombing our cities on a Ramadan holiday evening in Gaziantep.