Shows Double Duplicity on Syria
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
October 10, 2012 "Information
- With the blessing of the US and its other North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partners, as well as its own
national legislature if not the entire Turkish population, some
of whom have been holding mass rallies in opposition to Ankara's
war policy vis-a-vis Syria, the Turkish government has resorted
to a double hypocrisy.
On the one hand, it has exploited the mortar attack on a Turkish
border town, which may have well originated from the well-armed
opposition groups trying to weaken Damascus by instigating
Turkish-Syrian skirmishes, without even a pause to inquire
whether the Syrian army had anything to do with that attack.
Even The Wall Street Journal admitted: "While Turkey blamed
Wednesday's attack on the Syrian regime, it remained unclear
whether it was a deliberate attack or an errant bombing. Most
analysts in Turkey concluded that President [Bashar al-] Assad
had little to gain from targeting Turkish civilians."
Instead of a measured, level-headed response, the government of
Recip Erdogan has rushed lawmakers into giving him carte blanche
for Turkish incursions inside Syria, most likely as part and
parcel of a concerted effort to secure a "safe haven" for Syrian
rebels along the border, where the (French-led) efforts to set
up a Syrian provisional government would gain a foothold on
On the other hand, this "hard power" strategy has been combined,
and partly camouflaged, by the "soft power" tactic of stepping
back from the year-long calls for a wholesale regime change in
Damascus, by pretending that Ankara is now lowering its
expectations and would be happy to see the embattled Assad
relinquish power and be replaced by his vice-president, Farouq
al-Shara, described by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu
as "a man of reason and conscience" who "has not taken part in
the massacres in Syria ... the Syrian opposition is inclined to
accept Shara" as the future leader of the Syrian administration.
But this shows that Davutoglu himself is not a man of either
reason or conscience, as he and his government are clearly sold
on the "neo-Ottoman" dream of acting as kingmakers in
neighboring countries, by giving lip service to the United
Nations' current efforts to stop the deadly violence in Syria,
as well as the efforts of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, to
establish dialogue between the warring parties in Syria through
a "quartet" consisting of Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
But the Saudis, who failed to show up at the quartet's last
meeting in Cairo, have apparently decided to pull out because of
their misgivings regarding the role of Iran, which they see as
part of the problem rather than the solution, per reports in the
Persian Gulf media. This is as if the Saudis are the blessed
peacemakers and incapable of an earnest self-critique, given
their prominent role in providing arms and finance to the Syrian
opposition - which by all indications will not rest until the
entire Ba'athist regime is overthrown.
Still, irrespective of the self-evident goals and objectives of
the Syrian opposition that belie Davutoglu's claim that they
would be content with a mere change of musical chairs in
Damascus, Ankara continues with its dual-track approach that, as
stated above, reeks of hypocrisy. In fact, despite appearances
to the contrary, this shows no real change of Turkish policy
toward Syria, only a temporary adjustment that underscores
Ankara's determination to support the armed opposition by
opening a new front against Damascus, sowing division in the
Syrian political hierarchy by giving the impression that it has
given up on the goal of regime change in Syria, while in reality
even that pretension at this juncture is yet another cloaking
maneuver to bring about regime change in Damascus.
The trouble with the present Turkish approach toward Syria is,
however, twofold. First, the Turkish military salvos, entering a
second week, run the risk of military escalation and may well
serve as a unifying factor for Damascus, thus strengthening
Assad instead of weakening him as patriotic Syrians rally behind
the anti-Turkish cause.
Second, there is a saying "sever the head and the body falls".
Given the nature of Syria's political hierarchy and tradition of
strong autocratic rulers, it is a safe bet that a "Yemen-style"
scenario has little chance of success in Syria's multi-ethnic
and multi-religious, sect-driven system and, consequently, the
Turkish proposal for Assad's deputy is an invitation to a
transition to system collapse, not system preservation.
Davutoglu wants us to believe that this is not the case and that
a post-Assad transition without much tampering with the present
Ba'ath-led order is indeed feasible. But Davutoglu and other
Turkish leaders are probably hiding their anticipation of a
rather quick unraveling of the post-Assad scenario presented by
them, by the combined pressures to (a) dismantle the dreaded
security infrastructure, (b) put on trial the perpetrators of
crimes against Syrian population, (c) write a new constitution
by a new democratically elected parliament, one that would do
away with the Ba'ath Party's monopoly of power and dominance of
Syrian political space, and (d) merge the armed groups with a
new, and much sanitized, Syrian national army.
This is, of course, assuming that the post-Assad scene will not
be dominated by revenge killings, chaos, confessional
retributions, sectarian divisions, the de facto breakup of
national unity, uncontrolled irredentism, and so on.
Indeed, the list of challenges inherent in the new Turkish
proposal is a formidable one and raises serious question about
its applicability and chance of success, unless of course the
Turkish narrative is a mere put-on, that is, to mollify the
image of Turkish aggressors violating Syrian sovereignty in the
name of legitimate response to unprovoked attacks on their
Still, in light of the Syrian quagmire and the rising toll of
civilian casualties and mass refugees - the latest reports
indicate tens of thousands have fled to Egypt as well - Ankara
must have realized that its old regime-change strategy is in
trouble and new nuances must be introduced, on both the military
and political fronts. Thus, via the suspicious mortar attack
cited above, it has inserted itself more forcefully in the
Syrian military equation while simultaneously appearing more
dovish by making it look as if it can live with a Syrian Alawite-led
Ba'athist regime without Assad.
It has thus widened the gulf between its rhetoric and its
intentions, at the same time triggering the unintended
consequence of having to come to grips with the fact that the
rebels are simply incapable of dislodging the regime in Damascus
in the foreseeable future, at least not without foreign
Bottom line: the chips have fallen on the military side, not the
political side, of the equation, with Turkey the NATO member
intent on extending NATO's foothold inside Syria slowly but
surely, irrespective of certain misgivings by some Western
politicians, including in Washington, who are wary of jihadis in
the Syrian civil war.
The sad part of the unfolding tragedy in Syria consists of the
fact that ambitious and self-aggrandizing politicians in Turkey
are allowed to play a disproportionate role as architects of the
Western approach toward Syria, even though Europe has neither
the finances nor the desire to be the Libyan-style stakeholder
of a future Syria.
A wake-up call to the European Union to put a rein on Turkey's
war chariot in Syria is therefore urgently called for, simply
because Turkey's new offensive against Syria is a recipe for
disaster, for Syria, Turkey, and indeed the whole region.
What needs to be done instead of such militaristic tactics
covered with the language of compromise is a new peace
offensive, real and genuine support for UN efforts and other
related peace initiatives. The path chosen by Ankara will only
lead to more and not less conflict, at least for the foreseeable
Kaveh L Afrasiabi PhD is the author of After
Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview
Press). For his Wikipedia entry, click
He is author of Reading in Iran Foreign Policy after
September 11 (BookSurge Publishing, October 23, 2008) and
Looking for Rights at Harvard. His latest book is UN
Management Reform: Selected Articles and Interviews on United
Nations (CreateSpace, November 12, 2011).
article was originally posted at
2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd
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