What is to be done in Syria? Let The Turks Clean it Up
The Syrian question is becoming more complicated as time veers on. New reports of the use of chemical weapons litter the oval office with the question- to intervene, or not to intervene, but ah there in lies the rub. As a nice op ed piece in the New York Times puts it, by either intervening or not, there can no beneficial outcome for American foreign policy. Intervening and ousting Bashar Al Assad will only embolden radical Islamists to take power; Syria then becoming an anti-American hostile to Israel state, whilst being a hot bed for terrorist networks to operate from. On the other hand, if Assad is to stay it will then maintain Iran’s influence in the Levant, with Damascus now becoming more dependent on Iranian assistance than it was in its pre-civil war days. Indeed it is a perplexing question that appears to have no quick solution, and indeed however the US chooses to handle it, this will be a true test of America’s hegemony in its post-war on terror phase. So what solution do I advise would be the wisest, I put it bluntly- Let the Turks clean it up.
America has always sought allies throughout the globe that are both strategic geographically, and have the characteristics of being vulnerable to a shared American foe. The US is then apt to exploit both these traits in having an ally where it can then exert its influence towards the greater region. During the Cold War Turkey shared these characteristics, as having shared a large border with the Soviet Union, and occupying the Sea of Marmara, the key access point for the Soviet’s Black Sea fleet into the Mediterranean. Comprising these traits, Turkey became a crucial ally for the US during the Cold War, and remains so today. Throughout the chaotic Arab world, Turkey stands out admits the mess. A sort of shinning city on a hill, showing that Islam, and democracy can go hand in hand. In doing so, many of the Islamic parties participating in the Arab spring in Tunisia, and Egypt, wish to emulate their regimes after Turkey’s. It would therefore seem logical for the US to maintain this kinship with Turkey, as it is essentially seen as a sort of pillar that may be able to maintain stability throughout the greater Middle East. However, if a foreign policy is to be robust in its posture, it must think in the long term, not in the short.
Today Turkey is a power house. Turkey’s economy is ranked as the 17th largest in the world. It has the largest and the most modern military not just in the region, but also in Europe. Not only is Turkey powerful economically, and militarily, but also strategically. Beneath Turkey is a chaotic Middle East, beside it a declining Europe, and above- a nostalgic Russia. Turkey is not simply a power, but the troubles faced in its near abroad, stretch Turkey’s influence and interests making it a serious regional player that needs to be regarded. From the onset, it may have seemed to have been mutual, and even beneficial for the US to encourage the rise of Turkey, however as it rises in strength this may be a state the US should comprehend more closely.
The key trait of a geo-strategic ally is dependency. Without that dependency it is harder for the US to us it in exploiting its interest in the region. The US has always had the intent on propping up regional powers to check the threats of others, nonetheless- it has to maintain that those powers do not become regional hegemony themselves; hegemony which may have a world outlook and geo-strategic interests that are counter to those of the US. Israel or South Korea for example, always face the threat of external powers impeding on its survival, in doing so- the US secures its alliance in being a provider of its security, and as a result Israel and South Korea continue to emulate the US’s world outlook. Turkey on the other hand, some estimating that by 2020 will have an economy in the world’s top 10 bracket, is an ally no longer with that same sense of vulnerability, and hence with its rise it may become a significant power who does not share the US’s outlook. The US for the past several decades, for better or for worse, has been able to perform a foreign policy throughout the Middle East largely because there has never been another power to challenge it. However, if Turkey were to rise that monopoly on power may cease.
If ever the Arab world has been united or stabilized it has always been under Turkish rule. Up until 1918, the Turks have ruled the Middle East, and that memory is something still alive in Turkey’s conscience today. In Turkey, the elites talk of Neo-Ottomanism, and how Turkey is depended on by the US to provide stability in Iraq, secure changing energy routes from the Gulf, and being a model of democracy for Arab states. The Turks have always seen the Middle East as their backyard, a sort of natural domain for them to assert themselves in. Yet incidents such as the Turkish endorsed Flotilla crisis in 2010, a gesture against the Israelis’ policy in Gaza, or even a recent poll finding that more then over 50% of people in Turkey have an unfavorable view of the US, shows that Turkey is not necessarily an ally the US should really take for granted if in the long run it is to become stronger.
It would therefore seem logical for the US to somehow hamper or stagnate this state’s growth, as to not have to conflict with it in the coming decades should it become a formidable foe. There in lies Syria.
It should be in the US’s interest, that for there to be the overthrow of Assad, the removal of Iranian influence in the Levant, and the prevention of Syria becoming a failed state which may become a breeding ground for terrorists groups to operate in (even more heightened by the fact of loose chemical weapons), it would appear wise in my opinion for the US to pass off this responsibility for Turkey to handle. In its essence, and I make this cliché, it would kill two birds with one stone, and frankly this is the only stone the US has to throw if it is wishing for a positive outcome from Syria’s strife.
On the one hand, Turkey has the intent to intervene formally in the Syrian conflict, as it would not want to share a border with a chaotic state with no formal regiem in charge. A chaotic state neighboring Turkey would mean a country with less guarded borders which for instance may fuel and reignite Turkey’s Kurdish conflict by allowing groups such as the PKK to have an ease in their access to weapons. If cross border skirmishes were to continue in the present, the Turks would be pressed to intervene, and in doing so the US should be the first ones to encourage them in this en devour.
The Turks would seek to remove Assad and to set up a transitional government. But more importantly the Turks would be forced to stay, as Syria, a country with a complex demographic makeup would be one hard to produce a stable and viable government. Ultimately though, Turkey would make sure that whatever government to take charge would be one leaning towards Ankara, and not Tehran, ergo ensuring Washington’s interest #1.
During Syria’s occupation, old rifts between the Arabs and the Turks (many Arabs being reminded of their maltreatment by the Turks during the Ottoman rule) would be rekindled; as even today whenever Turkey’s president makes calls for calm in either Egypt or in Syria, officials in the opposite state will fire back with remarks such as “the Sultan Erdoğan, no longer tells us what to do,” remarks showing that these old testimonies are still alive and well. With this flame of hatred between the Arabs and the Turks being rekindled, Turkey’s image of being this benevolent power would be degraded, and the Arab world would be more hesitant to any future en devours of Turkish regional leadership. Essentially, Syria would be for Turkey, what Iraq in 2003 was for the US. A war in which it is easy to overthrow its head of state, but a war where there is no clear exit. Not only would this ensure American interests in removing an Iranian strategic ally, and also maintain that Syria does not become a state of anarchy (added to the fact that it possess chemical weapons), but Turkey involved in a protracted war in Syria would ensure that a bulk of Turkey’s time, energy and resources would be allocated towards this conflict, rather than in maintaining its growth towards becoming a regional hegemony the US may have to deal with in the coming decades. To give the analogy, Turkey intervening formally in the Syrian civil war, would be poking a hole in the ship of Turkey’s rise to power.
There seems to be no end in sight for the Syrian civil war. The use of chemical weapons, regardless of who they were used by, tells the outside world that this conflict is only getting worse- and that the toll of human lives- for both sides, is simply a statistic in the pursuit of their ends. Intervention by the United States has no positive consequences for American interests in the region, and for nothing to be done- morally will cost a severe amount of lives, and strategically- make it more probable for instability to spread into neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, and even Iraq. Something needs to be done, but the US need not rely on itself this time to save the world, but rather it simply needs to concentrate on ensuring its strategic interests, and with that I say- the only pragmatic solution that will be beneficial for American interests both in the short and long term in the Middle East is to simply let the Turks clean it up.