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SEDAT ERGİN > All paths are valid to topple Bashar al-Assad

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In his parliamentary group speech on Tuesday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan introduced an important framework as to which steps will be taken and what kind of response will be made to the recent Syrian crisis. Despite the speech’s strong discourse, it cannot be said that it signaled a military retaliation would be inflicted against Syria in the short term. It can be understood from the prime minister’s speech that at this initial stage, priority will be given to making diplimatic efforts to inform the international community.

‘No rest for us as long as you are there’

In my opinion, the most important part of the speech was that it demonstrated that Erdoğan is now inclined toward the option of “setting a seal on” the Syrian issue, in the medium and long term. Erdoğan has openly defined the Bashar al-Assad administration as a “present and clear threat,” and he did not hide the fact that he is focused on the goal of toppling and destroying this regime.

We should regard his words, such as his statement that “All kinds of support the Syrian people need will be provided until they are saved from the dictator and his gang,” as the most extreme statement the prime minister has uttered against al-Assad until today.

The “support” mentioned may include arming the opposition, providing financial aid, and also providing all kinds of logistics support for foreign intelligence elements to infiltrate Syria. While reports that Turkey was sending arms to aid the Syrian opposition were categorically denied previously, with the prime minister’s speech yesterday these denials have lost their credibility.

Actually, Erdoğan’s words can also be regarded as confirming reports published in The New York Times and the Guardian last week that Turkey was hosting certain CIA activities at the Syrian border, and also that Turkey has played a role in delivering arms to the opposition, and contributed to its financing, acting together with Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Something will be done to Syria
It is clear to see that the prime minister does not feel the need to hide that he has taken sides in the Syrian civil war, and that he is an openly intervening party. His stance demonstrates an attitude similar to that of former President Turgut Özal, when he dropped Saddam Hussein completely, all at once.

Also from the tone of this speech it is possible to understand that – when the time comes – “something will be done” in the sense of a military response in Syria. But for this to happen, it seems as if it will be necessary to wait until Syria makes a mistake. We can understand this from the phrase, “The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have changed their rules of engagement toward Syria.”

The flexibility this introduces means that in the case of a potential clash in the air, on sea or on land, resorting to the last step, the threshold of pulling the trigger, will be reached faster.

Injustice to the media
The most problematic part of the speech, in my opinion, was the severe criticisms Erdoğan had for the Turkish press, including unacceptable, extremely severe, unjust statements such as referring to journalists as “hired pens” and as “not sons of this country.” If Turkey is a democracy, then the government’s foreign policy should be open to criticism.

The prime minister himself admitted that al-Assad “did not live up to his promises,” and, in short, had misled him. Therefore, however good-willed he may be, the policy he followed did not bring any results. In this case, are those who had said it would in time prove to be a mistake for Erdoğan to get so close to al-Assad mistaken now? Are they not the sons of this country now?

If Turkey has chosen democracy as its path, there is nothing more natural than to question the government’s foreign policy and the crisis policies it follows. In democracies, leaders tolerate journalists who use their right to criticize; they don’t immediately label them as “hired pens.”

As a matter of fact, this is one of the aspects that differentiates Turkey from other regimes in the region, like Bashar al-Assad’s. Or, it is supposed to be, anyway…

Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet, in which this piece was published on June 27. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

June/28/2012

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