MUSTAFA AKYOL > Are Turks from Mars or Venus?

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As the tension between Turkey and Syria reaches to new heights, public figures in Turkey are discussing how far things should go. Is the downing of a Turkish jet “casus belli,” a cause of war? If it is not, what should Turkey do if the Syrian military violates the new “rules of engagement” that Prime Minister Erdoğan announced this week? Should “Turkey’s wrath” that Erdoğan spoke about go beyond words and turn into action?

Most Turks who comment on these questions give very pacifist answers. A military conflict, they insist, must be avoided at all costs. Quite a few of them even see the tension between Turkey and the Syrian regime as a conspiracy by “unseen powers” to drag Turkey into a destructive war. All in all, there is hardly anybody in mainstream Turkey who calls for a military action against Syria.

Therefore, Turks might be taken as a people “from Venus” and not “from Mars,” invoking the famous analogy by Robert Kagan. (Kagan had defined Europeans as pacifist Venutians, and Americans as ready-to-fight Martians.)

Recent Turkish history would also seem to testify to that verdict. Since the founding of the Republic in 1923, Turkey has avoided military conflicts. The only exception was the occupation of northern Cyprus in 1974, in “Operation Peace,” which had the intention of saving Turkish Cypriots from ethnic cleansing by militant Greek nationalists. Turkey also sent troops to Korea in the early 1950s and to Afghanistan in the early 2000s, under the auspices of the United Nations and NATO respectively. But none of these were wars against a bordering country.

However there is a tragic downside to this largely peaceful story. Yes, the Turkish military avoided foreign targets, but it hit many domestic ones. Turkey, it can be even said, was occupied twice (in 1960 and 1980) by its own tanks and troops. These invaders abolished the Parliament, executed a prime minister and other elected politicians, and imprisoned and tortured many thousands of Turkish citizens. An average foreign army occupying Turkey would probably not do worse than that.

In other words, Turkey’s traditionally peaceful foreign policy might not be testimony that Turks are bleeding heart liberals who would never even touch guns. Perhaps there was just enough war at home, and insufficient power to spend abroad.

This implies that a Turkey which resolves its internal tensions and relocates its military’s attention from internal to external threats perhaps might be more muscular. And, according to some commentators, this transformation has already begun under the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP).

But does Turkey need to be muscular country? Or rather should it intentionally choose to be “from Venus,” as the majority of Turkish pundits argue?

Well, I am not a war-monger, but let me get a bit unconventional here. War is, yes, a very bad thing. But sometimes it prevents worse things. The war in Serbia in 1999, for example, was a good war, as it saved the Kosovars from slaughter. The war on Gaddafi just last year was helpful as well, for it helped the Libyan revolution succeed and prevented a very bloody restoration of the old regime.

Similarly, a war on the al-Assad regime could be a just campaign to end the ongoing slaughter of the innocents in Syria. Turkey can not launch this by itself, for sure. But I see no reason to rule it out in advance, and thus make the al-Assad regime feel more secure to keep on killing even more unabashedly. Like the Americans do with Iran, we should perhaps rather “keep all options on the table.”


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Notice on comments

Hasan Kutlay

7/3/2012 12:22:55 AM

US Observer, if there will be a NATO intervention then Turkey has no other choice than agreeing and perhaps participating in it like it was in the Libya case. But that's something else than Turkey fighting Syria on its own. Who can guarantee us that Syria won't be a 2nd Iraq with regular terror attacks on foreign forces?

US Observer

7/2/2012 2:27:50 PM

@ Deniz Can, very well said. Soemtimes War prevents worse things from happening. I'm not saying Turkey should go to war, but I am tired of seeing the "war solves nothing", PC stuff. People want to see the world how they wish it was, not how it really is. Fact...there are bad, bad people. Fact...that will never change. Often, the unwillingness to act is seen as weakness for those who want to oppress. Curse your military, but realize if not for their strength, you would not be the same nation.

Gokhan Koyunlu

7/1/2012 11:14:03 PM

Mr Erdogan wants to take part in the region dominantly as well as Former American President G.Bush . So he needs a army that has a good morality for fighting against Syria next to him . However everybody knows that senior generals are in the prisioner due to be accused being a party coup towards rulling party .By the abolising OYM , he wishes to make a peace with army . Then he will be push our country make a war against Syria . Nevertheles I am afraid of falling him as well as Enver Pasa

Blue Dotterel

7/1/2012 9:16:25 PM

The only way to end the slaughter of innocents in Syria is to stop supporting the terrorists doing the slaughtering. It is unfortunate that one cannot put sanctions on the US, other NATO countries and the GCC since they decide on sanctions irrespective of who deserves them. As for the AKP and Erdogan, particularly, they seem mired in the 17th century, or thereabouts. No Tayyip, you cannot be Sultan of the Neo-Ottoman Empire.

Deniz Can

7/1/2012 7:16:36 PM

War shouldn't be the solution to any problem of human beings. There is no good or/and bad war. Rule of war is killing. War is the wrong judgement of the situation. The core question is why we have reached to this point of "no return, except war". I am sure, If Mr. Akyol could have concentrated on the real cause of conflict and role of external powers wanted to profit from the war, he would have gotten confused between different conflict situation and solutions. Balkan and Libya are not Syria

Hasan Kutlay

7/1/2012 5:58:31 PM

We can use the money we would spend on a war against Syria for the sake of our own country.War is not for free, and we are not that yet a solvable country.It's typical for big M-Eastern muslim countries:a bit of stabilization & growth and they begin egotripping and dreaming that they are the king of the region.Take a lesson from Saddam who ruined one of the best M-Eastern countries because of his big ego. Turkey isn't entitled to rescue the Syrians on its own.

Zouqul H. Chowdhury Zouk

7/1/2012 1:25:15 PM

Why on earth a Turkish jet, armed or unarmed, entered Syrian territory at low level, when the current relation between Turkey and Syria is at lowest ebb? Turkey gave Syria a chance to entangle Turkey in the Syrian civil war. Turkey must stay away from any kind of direct military confrontation with Syria. Such a confrontation will make Turkey a loser.

Morse Fan

7/1/2012 7:40:25 AM

I would have agreed with this column a month ago, but the words "a war on the Syrian regime" are like an alarm going off. Countries go to war with countries, and when it appears otherwise, it is usually because the opposition to a rogue regime is being pummeled, thereby creating a clear enemy, and certainty about when you have won. Turkey does have other interests to balance, but 80% of the benefits are available from cleverness on the current path and risks of change seem unnecessarily high.

Morse Fan

7/1/2012 7:09:45 AM

The moment has probably passed for Turkey/anyone to do much to "help Syrians get their freedom" beyond the extremely productive role of aggressively maintaining a buffer-zone-in-fact and "supervising" rebel activities on the border. Americans know from bitter experience that the first Turkish boot on the ground would commit you to occupying Syria for several years and maybe an eventual fight with the Free Syrian Army. They are going to win, so we all may as well let them get on with it now.

Arthur Borges

7/1/2012 5:46:36 AM

Fascinating: after the "good war" and the "just war", we now have the "helpful war". Could we have a more generic definition of that term from Mr. Akyoll?
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