27 August 2011

From Libya to Syria Changes in Turkish Foreign Policy

A couple of days ago, I wrote that Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Davutoglu went to Benghazi to offer a substantial sum to the National Transitional Council (NTC) of Libya to be used in forming a government. I also noted that a summit with rebel leaders including Mahmoud Jibril was planned for the next two days.

Apparently, the summit took place and Jibril was in Istanbul along with other NTC leaders. They asked Turkey's help with frozen Libya assets and with Libya's intention to ask for a UN seat next month.

I had not seen that reported in Western sources so I went back to the BBC site and did a search for Jibril and Istanbul and found no entries. I did the same with Google and this is what I found:
(Reuters) - Libyan rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril will meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on Wednesday to discuss prospects for a political transition in a post-Muammar Gaddafi era. (...)
Sarkozy has called for a special "Friends of Libya" conference to be held in Paris in the next 10 days which could bring together as many as 30 foreign leaders and international organizations to help ease Libya's reconstruction and transition into a democratic state.
How do they know that, you might ask, well, this was the last sentence:
The details are due to be finalized at a meeting of senior diplomats in Istanbul on Thursday.
No mention of Jibril being in Istanbul. The Istanbul meeting was just to organize the Sarkozy summit the following week.

I guess that is why I appear contrarian.

As for Syria, it is currently overshadowed by what is taking place in Libya and the horrifying stories that are being uncovered in Tripoli. Apparently, the same carnage is continuing there with several tens of people dying every day.

Since the beginning of that crisis, I remained convinced that a regime change in Syria was imminent (indeed required for other changes to take place in the region) and Turkey was the only regional actor that can take part in an active intervention. Originally, I thought that a massive exodus to the Turkish border would provide the excuse to go in and create a buffer zone inside the country. And to pressure Al Assad and his goons from there.

Sensing the likelihood of that plan, the Syrian army blocked any passage to Turkey and removed the possibility of using this as a pretext to go into Syria.

Lately, a new possibility emerged. A new report was published by a UN team that just finished touring Libya and their conclusion was that "Syrian civilians need protection." Whether this can become another pretext to use more direct means on Syrian leadership depends largely on their behavior.

If they announce a major reform package, let go of their armed suppression and reduce daily civilian deaths they could remove that possibility as well. But somehow, I suspect that the thugs around the Syrian president would not be able to control their impulses. Equally importantly, the other side has now gone too far to be able to accept some minor reformist tweaking. They will fear that the moment everyone looks away, Al Assad's thugs will come after them.
So, my guess is that one way or another civilian deaths will continue to rise. At that point a UN mandated intervention could become a real possibility. Russia is reluctant to allow the Security Council to initiate harsher measures but the level of carnage could get to such a point that it might not have much choice in the matter.

In that scenario, with Libyan strategy considered a success, a similar plan with NATO planes bombing military targets from Incirlik base and Turkish troops helping civilians on the ground could gain acceptance. In fact with troops on the ground its success would be a lot more certain than the Libya case.

There is one interesting aspect to all this. If Turkey intervenes to protect Syrian civilians, this will be done ostensibly to assert that no country has the right to crush dissent with military force and all countries have to guaranty the rights of its ethnic, religious or political minorities. The moment they intervene, this humanitarian, democratic ideal will have to become the new foundation of Turkish foreign policy (to replace "zero problems with neighbors"). Which means, to justify its actions, Turkey will have to abide by the same principle.

In other words, it will have to alter fundamentally its current approach to the so called Kurdish problem.

I am not suggesting that it will be a difficult issue. From the beginning, as a contrarian, I have been suggesting that Turkey and the current government will find a solution to this problem. Not because the government is very enlightened or Turkey is willing to do the right thing. Quite the contrary, I have been saying that it will be done because much bigger goals depend on the successful resolution of this and the Palestinian problem. 

And I have been saying that a regime change in Syria was needed to achieve these goals.

This new foreign policy perspective could provide an easy path to that end.

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