Turkey weighs Syria options, proxy war not among them

Sometimes what at first glance appears to be a one-off incident may well lead to »»

Sometimes what at first glance appears to be a one-off incident may well lead to an unwanted, lasting chain reaction. Last week’s deplorable downing of a manned Turkish reconnaissance plane by Syria is such a case. Verbal retaliation by the Turkish prime minister was an immediate must and the deployment of troops along the Syrian border another logical step. Yet what some hawkish circles apparently want -- Ankara going it alone vis-à-vis Damascus -- would be giving in to engagement in a proxy war in the name of others who neither can nor want to take serious action against Syria and would be like falling into a political trap of sorts.

Let me be more precise. A US-led initiative with boots on the ground before the presidential elections at the end of the year is highly unlikely. One or two single EU member states declaring war unilaterally would torpedo each and every effort at eventually creating a full-fledged Common Foreign and Security Policy that, until this very day, more often than not results in nothing more than simply adopting lengthy resolutions. Could NATO have become the third and only viable option to enter Syria, not as a US-led mission but supposedly as a broad coalition of NATO member states? Apparently not as of yet! Why? Syria is a different country than Libya, for example. Syria, although seemingly isolated, has at least on paper powerful external allies, if that is the right word. NATO would not simply be fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s troops but entering the treacherous waters of global conflict.

As much as I understand the anger in Ankara, first over the continuous bloodshed in a neighboring country that once was supposed to be an emerging economic and political friend, second over its concerns as to how many more thousands of Syrian civilians will flee to this country and where they will go from here, and third over its downed airplane, it would not merit a unilateral declaration of war.

Thus, assuming that the unilateral option is off the table despite the verbal retaliation which was all too understandable, Turkey must press its NATO allies and Washington and EU partner countries to come together and decide whether a joint effort is possible, desirable or not. Turkey going it alone would please all the hard-liners across the Atlantic, make Brussels’ political life so much easier and leave NATO not having to face the risk of being drawn into a lengthy war. Neither the population of Europe, America nor elsewhere would support that anyway. Turkey going it alone would please some Turkish neo-conservatives, too, who would have a field day arguing that a government that had promised its voters to establish a 21st-century civilian democracy would then resort to demonstrating its military might not just at home but abroad, too.

On the one hand, and initially unknowingly yet by now perhaps quite openly, President Assad has laid a trap for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. If Assad can no longer rescue his own position, what better than a neighboring leader becoming embroiled in the military action, too, thereby leading to a further loss of life on both sides? If Assad thinks he can no longer survive, why not set the entire region on fire next? Attention would be shifted to Turkey, away from only Damascus being seen as the bad boy responsible for innocent people losing their lives.

On the other hand, while Washington and Brussels having lent verbal support to Ankara after the downing of the plane is one thing, pushing Ankara to the edge to go it alone is altogether different and, above all else, totally wrong, if it ever comes to that scenario.

Ankara and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government have modernized and democratized an entire country almost from A-Z in just under a decade. Let us hope that its foresightedness is not cut short by the conflict in neighboring Syria and, albeit understandable, that it never in a solo effort flexes its military muscles vis-à-vis Damascus. The Syrian conflict is a global issue; Ankara will be remembered as an eventual peace-broker if it manages to convey that message to its allies. Jointly, the time for action may come soon unless the democratic Syrian opposition in its transitional form manages to permanently turn things around at home, of course with external support, if demanded, yet full-blown military intervention must be a last resort.