Syria and Turkey’s exit strategy
In Syria, as the number of dead and refugees increases, endless political and military debates ensue. Unless an important development ends this state of affairs, tragedies and controversies are likely to continue for a long time to come.
There are two ways of ending this tragedy. Firstly, one side of the conflict can win a decisive victory. Yet, we know how difficult this is in civil wars based on ethnic, sectarian and religious divisions and with many interested third parties. Secondly, the creation of a militant and political environment will shift the balance of power and encourage negotiations. This option faces serious difficulties, too.
The Turkish government, which wants al-Assad gone, has taken an active role in civil war. All its initiatives were conducted covertly. Although it claims that it didn’t provide the rebels with “lethal military equipment”, media tell otherwise. In any case, in guerrilla warfare, assisting in terms of logistics, psychological support and strategically important safe havens are as important as providing weapons. In the light of its objective to increase the capacity of armed opposition to end Assad’s rule, Turkey did exactly this.
However, despite the efforts of Turkey and its allies, armed opposition has not acquired the military capacity to defeat or even challenge the al-Assad regime. It seems that war will go on.
War will go on, mainly because the armed opposition in Syria does not have military or ideological unity. Behind this lack of unity lie the different interests of the many allies supporting the opposition. Although there are sufficient political and psychological reasons for the opposition in Syria to rise against the regime, the armed opposition in Syria is not the result of “internal dynamics” or “natural conditions.” Hence, it was impossible to eliminate the divergent opinions at the beginning leading to military and ideological division. Diversity of ideas, an indispensable element of democracies, can have deadly consequences for an armed opposition movement. Today, the armed opposition in Syria is multifaceted, decentralized and ultimately unreliable. It won’t be wrong to say that this ailing structure will contaminate the domestic and foreign affairs of Syria for a long time to come.
Turkey’s Syria policy changed character. The military dimension of Turkey-Syria relations became more apparent than ever. The Turkish Armed Forces (TAF), which until now was inconspicuous, became more visible, too. I can say that the TAF actions aim at increasing the psychological pressure on the Esad rather than preparing for a comprehensive military operation, as indicated by limited military activity.
In the light of the increasing tension with Syria, the bigger international picture, domestic political debates, the increasing number of refugees, and the capacities of the Syrian armed opposition, the best exit strategy for Turkey is to hope for the creation of a negotiation table in Syria.