How did US, Turkey compromise on prospective Russian plan for Syria?by Aydogan Vatandaş*

May 20, 2013, Monday/ 16:55:00

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit to Washington was an indication and proof that Turkey is a significant partner in the Middle East where US interests are being strongly challenged.

However, it is hard to believe that Turkey's expectations will be met. Before leaving Turkey, Erdoğan made clear that he would press US President Barack Obama to take more aggressive action on Syria, creating a no-fly zone in northern Syria and a possible military intervention.

During the joint White House press conference, however, Obama tried to make it clear that the US is not capable of providing the solution that Turkey has been seeking. The reason that Erdoğan brought Hakan Fidan, the head of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), along to Washington was to present the available evidence of chemical weapons that are allegedly being used in Syria by the Bashar al-Assad regime.

President Obama had said many times before that chemical weapons would be a “game changer” and a “red line” for the US, but it seemed like he was not politically ready to be convinced.

"I've said in the past, we have seen evidence of the use of chemical weapons inside of Syria. It is important for us to make sure that we're able to get more specific information about what exactly is happening there," he said.

As an outcome of the meeting with the Obama administration, Turkey has softened its opposition to a Russia-US brokered international conference on Syria.

But how did it happen? How did both the American and the Turkish governments eventually agree on a Russian plan for Syria? There are in fact many reasons for this compromise, but the key reason is Obama's reluctance to intervene in the Syrian conflict. He withdrew American troops from Iraq and is preparing to do same thing in Afghanistan very soon as well.

On the other hand, Obama is challenging some domestic problems which is causing him to pay less attention to the Syrian conflict. But one can definitely argue that it was actually Russia's aggressive and irreconcilable attitude towards the US and Turkey, both in terms of intelligence and policies, which led the US and Turkish governments to compromise.

Russia's biggest concern about a prospective regime change in Syria was the rise of militant extremist movements in Syria and in the region which could bring more chaos and security problems.

The Boston Marathon bombings proved that the US intelligence community is not well-designed to meet the threat of emerging homegrown terrorism. However, the Russian intelligence community proved that they have the capacity to provide warnings of a terrorist act, even in the US. By warning the FBI about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston bombing suspect, in 2011, the Russian intelligence services gave an unparalleled opportunity for Russian policymakers to compromise their American counterparts. If the Russians had shared the complete operative intelligence about Tsarnaev with the FBI, as House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers stated multiple times, the Boston bombings could most likely have been prevented.

President Obama is now 100 percent sure and convinced that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin has the power to foresee prospective terrorist acts in the US or even prevent them if he wants to.

In addition, Turkish intelligence services seemed to have realized that they have miscalculated the power of the Syrian regime.

In an interview with Charlie Rose in February 2012, Russia's Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin stated that the Syrian conflict could last years while Turkish policymakers believed that the fall of Assad's regime was close and in a matter of “days or weeks.”

This is why information is true power only if you know how to manage it. “Intelligence” is not just collecting, analyzing and communicating information relevant to national strategic goals but also utilizing the information in policymaking. We should analyze that policymaking is a part of the intelligence process. An intelligence failure is not only due to problems of information collection or analyses but also due to major problems in policymaking processes as well. For the US and Turkey, this is what has happened in Syria so far.


*Aydoğan Vatandaş is an investigative journalist and author based in New York.