Opportunism may be one of the accepted facts of life in foreign policy, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. The Turkish government is busy right now trying to make the most of two pieces of the Syrian crisis that have come to the fore: The recent flood of refugees to Europe, and the Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) attacks in Paris. They are both likely to backfire.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s coy question “What would happen if these 2.2 million refugees get out of Turkey and start marching toward the EU?” is a cheap bargaining trick to say the least, attempting to introduce the destiny of desperate Syrians as a new unofficial dossier in EU-Turkey relations.
But now, the number of locks on the door of Europe is likely to rise as information circulates that one of the Paris attackers may have been a Syrian refugee who passed through Turkey. Will the negotiations move toward a buffer zone plan, or will the sides leave the with-or-without-Al Assad debate aside, and concentrate on ending the war in Syria as quickly as possible?
Let’s be clear: Ankara is playing the terrorism card at the very moment that the Paris attacks strengthen the decisiveness to combat Daesh. Erdogan condemned the Paris attacks, calling for “a consensus of the international community against terrorism”. But in his mind, this consensus means adding Kurdish forces to the EU list of terrorist organisations. The US and the EU already recognise the historical Kurdish organisation PKK as terrorists, but Ankara also wants the West to end its recent collaboration with the Kurdish groups, PYD and YPG, in the military fight against Daesh.
Al Assad, stay or go?
The Paris attacks underlined the urgency for a broader solution in Syria, and that requires the US and Russia to work together. Led by France, the West is now looking to get in line with Russia and put aside plans to overthrow the Damascus regime in favour of focusing on the defeat of Daesh.
The Vienna gathering on November 14 came just after the terror attacks in Paris. A transition government is to be founded in Syria within six months, and UN-observed elections are to be held within 18 months according to the new constitution to be written. The ideal date for the Syrian government and the opposition groups to start talks under UN observation is January 1.
So, ever more, it appears that the transition will be with Al Assad, though there is no clue about the long-term fate of the Syrian president. The Russians are selling this by saying that the people at the ballot will decide, while the Americans appear ever more helpless while they bide their time.
Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu has insisted that Al Assad will not run in the elections, and his exit will occur according to a process to be decided later. Russia is no longer pushing Al Assad to stay, according to Sinirlioglu.
Ever more, the Syrian issue is starting to be perceived within the context of “combating terrorism”, which is also to Moscow’s liking, though Turkey’s desire to add the PYD and YPG to the terrorism list is not.
As people wonder whether the Paris attacks are a turning point in the battle against Daesh, some have asked if the West will launch a ground war. Obama quickly ended such speculation at the recent G20 summit.
While the rest of the world begins to coalesce around the battle against Daesh, Turkey seems to care about nothing except stopping the Kurds from moving west of the Euphrates. If this ends up standing in the way of a united front against Daesh, the whole world will suffer. And the allies will remember Turkey’s blatant opportunism for a long time to come.
— Worldcrunch, in partnership with Radikal/New York Times News Service
Fehim Tastekin is a columnist at the Turkish newspaper Radikal, based in Istanbul.