The meaning of ‘terrorist’ for the US and Turkey
Everyone knew that the developments in Syria would have different and important effects on the features, positions, roles and relations of states and non-state actors. As the conflict spread and deepened, all actors began to act not only in line with ideological motivations, but also in accordance with their interests and with the intention of minimizing the negative effects of the developments. They are trying to understand and participate in the developments. The debate over the post-al-Assad period continues behind closed doors.
As the signs regarding the weakening of al-Assad’s position become more apparent, the profile of the armed opposition, the priorities of the sponsoring allies, and the relations between the opposition and their allies as well as among the allies themselves are all changing. Therefore, not only Syria’s future is becoming more uncertain, but also the relations among the allies are likely to incur serious damages. There seems to be no consensus between the allies regarding the political projections, risk perceptions and the identities of the future actors of the post-al-Assad period.
For instance, the priorities of Turkey and the U.S. do not seem to overlap. The U.S. wishes to see al-Assad fall, but is more interested in the control of chemical weapons and the existence of jihadist groups. The Turkish government, on the other hand, is only interested in al-Assad’s fall. From a fatalistic perspective, chemical weapons pose no problem; for ideological reasons, jihadists are not seen as a negative factor.
Whereas the U.S. perceives the al-Nusra Front to be a greater threat than al-Assad by adding it to its list of terrorist organizations, Turkey does not hide the fact that it thinks differently on the matter. Viewing the problem from a broader perspective, the U.S. foresees that these jihadist groups will pose bigger threats if they get a hold of chemical weapons. Moreover, the U.S. has not forgotten the fact that its ambassador was murdered in Libya. Turkey does not consider these groups to be jihadist terrorists and assigns an important role to them in the war along the border.
The PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD), viewed sympathetically by the U.S., is at the top of Turkey’s “bad guys” list. There are even rumors that Turkey has been utilizing the “bad guys” on the U.S. list in Ras al-Ayn against the PYD. On top of that, things got more complicated when the Turkish government gathered the Syrian Turkmens in Istanbul to garner support from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). It seems that, as the Syrian crisis unfolds, new developments will arise and the allies will continue their tussle under the table.