Some suggested at the time that Turkey made “a grand miscalculation” by not swiftly agreeing to proposals for economic sanctions and any type of military intervention by the international community against Muammar Gaddafi and his supporters, while others recently argued that Turkey was the main reason behind NATO’s extended failure to agree to take over the command of the military operation Odyssey Dawn from the United States.
Recalling that Ankara has consistently cautioned that “the equation which needs to be solved in Libya has multiple variables,” a senior Turkish diplomat told Sunday’s Zaman earlier this week that there is still a vital need to thoroughly assess the situation in Libya and the response to be given by the international community.
“I am not in a position to say that we have assumed ‘the best policy.’ Yet, no one can question the fact that we have acted with common sense,” the diplomat, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity, said, echoing the saying “Honesty is the best policy.”
“We have always acted with moderation and we have insistently stated that we need to think case by case; Libya is not Egypt. ‘One size fits all’ is not valid here,” the diplomat, in apparent reference to criticism suggesting Turkey’s response to the Libyan case was presenting a sharp contradiction with its earlier stances regarding the Egyptian and Tunisian cases, said.
“Remember, when the first riots were triggered in Libya, it was ambiguous whether the opposition would be able to seize the rule from Gaddafi. In time, Gaddafi became stronger than earlier. Then came the UN Security Council resolutions. But no one should forget that Gaddafi is still running the country; and it is not yet crystal clear whether he will eventually be ousted. UN resolutions include a broad mandate; that is why there is still a need for thoroughly outlining their implementation on the ground,” the diplomat said, while reminding Sunday’s Zaman of an earlier hypothetical example he gave in order to display Ankara’s reservations about the modalities and implementation of the no-fly zone idea.
“There are obvious risks with the no-fly zone imposition. Let’s say a NATO aircraft hit a Libyan aircraft, or the opposite happened and a NATO soldier was taken hostage by the Libyan side. What will be the answer to this kind of situation?” the Turkish diplomat asked, reflecting Ankara’s reservations about the no-fly zone idea.
Another senior Turkish diplomat also pointed out to risks of “friendly fire,” which has been quite common in, for example, Afghanistan.
The rug and conjecture
Agreeing that there is still an extremely fluid situation in Libya, Özdem Sanberk, a former Foreign Ministry undersecretary and an esteemed foreign policy analyst, has warned that the government should avoid making conjectural statements on the Libyan case.
“When you deliver statements according to conjecture, you may find the rug being pulled from under you,” Sanberk, who is currently the director of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), told Sunday’s Zaman.
“But there is also a need to not deliver too many statements like some of Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan’s remarks against a NATO role in Libya and that such a role would trigger a wave of Arab nationalism. I’m not saying that his convictions were not true, but when you speak that often, it becomes more difficult for you to draw a crystal clear stance in the eyes of other countries,” Sanberk said, referring to Erdoğan’s Feb. 28 remarks in which he rejected the idea of foreign intervention in Libya and called a possible NATO role “nonsense” because Libya is not a threat to any NATO country.
When reminded of criticism similar to that of Sanberk, a government official said there was no UN Security Council resolution in place when Erdoğan voiced that particular objection.
“From that day until today the situation on the ground has changed rapidly and dramatically. “Let’s look at what happened during these 20-25 days and let’s look at the blood of civilians shed in Libya. Who will assume responsibility for the shedding of this blood?” the official asked.
France and fait accompli
Turkey says it wants careful planning on the planned NATO involvement due to concerns over protecting the alliance’s prestige in an operation to be launched in a Muslim country.
France, which launched the air campaign with Britain and the United States on March 19, says NATO should play a technical role by providing its command structure for the operation, while an ad hoc steering group of coalition members, including the Arab League, exercises political control.
Ankara, nonetheless, has pressed for NATO to have sole control of the Libya operations.
“The role cast by France to NATO is solely the role of a ‘service provider’ or a ‘subcontractor.’ We cannot accept this because there is a need for a proper command and control for the operation in Libya so that the no-fly zone can be implemented effectively and without problems. Operating under UN Security Council Resolution 1973, the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s decision-making body, will be the right institution to be in charge of the political command,” the second diplomat speaking with Sunday’s Zaman said.
Only a day before the strike on March 19, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu met with Nasser al-Mani, a member of the interim administration formed in Benghazi after the popular uprising against Gaddafi.
And on March 17, the day when the UN Security Council adopted the resolution imposing a no-fly zone over Libya and measures to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s forces, Turkey hosted representatives of the National Council, while holding intense negotiations with both of the parties in Libya.
Thus France’s rush to kick off air strikes sparked a particular reaction from Ankara.
“France basically messed it up. This has to be resolved without shedding blood and it cannot be resolved through bombardment. You cannot intimidate Gaddafi in this way. They suppose that they can sort it out by throwing a few bombs,” said the first senior diplomat speaking with Sunday’s Zaman, reflecting Ankara’s anger at France.
“We are still in contact with all relevant parties in Libya. We don’t want to lose the leverage we have in Libya in our dealings with the Libyans, whether it is with the government or with the opposition,” the diplomat added, underlining Ankara’s firmness on having the issue resolved within Libya.
Speaking to Turkish journalists accompanying him on a visit to West Africa on Wednesday, Turkish President Abdullah Gül voiced suspicion that some coalition governments had ulterior motives and that Libya could be “looted” as Iraq had been.
“Why? Because the aim [of coalition forces] is not the liberation of the Libyan people. There are hidden agendas and differing interests,” Gül said, noting that the coalition lacked an agreed policy, planning and exit strategy and questioned the motives for intervention in the oil-and-gas-rich North African country.
“I worry that the things that happened in Iraq may repeat in Libya. Iraq was looted; now I am afraid the same will happen in Libya,” Gül said. A presidential aide forwarded his comments to Reuters from Accra.
Koray Çalışkan, a political scientist teaching at İstanbul’s Boğaziçi University, has also argued that the situation in Libya resembles that of Iraq.
“The most important aspect of the crisis is the fact that it has displayed how Turkey is a very important part of European politics. The emerging tension between France and Turkey has come to dominate over the very spirit of the military operation,” Çalışkan wrote in his regular column in the Turkish Radikal daily on Thursday.
“In an effort to restore his declining popularity, Sarkozy took steps without much forethought. Thus, he even drew criticisms from close allies. Turkey’s attitude, on the other hand, was one of maintaining a sort of ‘strategic fuzziness.’ It neither supported nor posed an obstacle to the operation. It both drew its limits by exposing the Western hypocrisy to the light of day and weakened France’s hand via its NATO strategy that feigned reluctance to attain its actual ends,” Çalışkan said.