Turkey-US-Assad-ISIL: The Vicious Circle

2 March 2015

In Turkey, what political leaders say carries weight for a day. This is because they speak almost every day; address big crowds probably every couple of days. Public memory cannot cope. The language they use is, more often than not, combative and polarizing. Glaring contradictions are a recurring and popular theme for the media. But nobody really cares. Some say “it was then, this is now”. Mostly we don’t even bother to say that.

This is not the case elsewhere. For example, President Obama’s calling the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime a “red line” and then seeking their elimination without resort to arms was seen by some as a step back, lack of resolve. I thought what he did was wise. The Middle East has already seen many foreign interventions and all they have produced is chaos. Whereas Syria’s chemical weapon stocks were destroyed through a rare display of broad international solidarity. Nevertheless, the so-called “red-line” became an issue of perseverance, steadiness.

So I wish to look at the agreement signed between Turkey and the US on 19 February 2015 to train-and-equip the “moderate” Syrian opposition from the point of consistency.

For the Turkish Government, President Assad who was brother Assad until a few years back, is singularly responsible for all the evil that has unfolded in Syria and peace will reign only and only when he is gone. Everything else is of secondary importance.

The US as well sees President Assad as an evil dictator deserving to be removed but this has not become an obsession. In other words, the US has taken a clear stand against him but has not closed the door to every other option. After all, the statement “all options are on the table” cannot always mean a prelude to war. For the US the priority now is ISIL.

The train-and-equip agreement for the Syrian opposition appears to be an effort the find some common ground between these irreconcilable positions. The Middle East is in turmoil and the US cannot allow its relations with Turkey to move towards uncharted waters especially when the land assault on ISIL appears to be nearing.

Does this train-and-equip agreement have any real potential? I can quote President Obama to answer the question:

“With respect to Syria, the notion that arming the rebels would have made a difference has always been a fantasy. This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.”

This is what he told Mr. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times on 8 August 2014. The President was talking about the “moderate” opposition.

So the question becomes the following?

Should I take the President at his word and give up on the “moderate” Syrian opposition as a credible force to change Syria’s destiny, or say “well, that was then, this is now” or be happy that this agreement provides at least a façade of Turkish-US cooperation regardless of its content…

Maybe the answer lies with the fate of Mosul.

About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad, and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was the Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh, and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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