The issue is not just hostages
The Americans have set up two operation centers in Iraq for the attack on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
One is in Baghdad, the other is in Arbil. U.S. President Barack Obama has said 475 U.S. Department of Defense personnel will be going to either one, in addition to the 1,144 who are already there. Arbil’s increasing role gives clues about the military strategies that the U.S. will follow in the region.
The U.S. will always have a Plan B. Now they have decided to strike against ISIL. If things drag on, Turkey’s unwillingness might lead the U.S. to start comparing Arbil to the İncirlik airbase in southern Turkey. This comparison was made by the Wall Street Journal, which suggested that it was time to think about replacing İncirlik with a new base in the Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
Alternatively, the Americans might take another direction and think about making use of Turkey’s unwillingness. They could say: “If we can't win the war against ISIL, why don’t we trust our ally in Ankara. Let’s allow ISIL to continue seeming like it is constructing a state, and let's have the Sunni government in Ankara make use of its close relations to tame it and integrate it into the system.”
In other words, the "rational state mechanism" in the U.S. will always find a creative solution to change developments to its favor.
But how will Turkey be affected by this and how will what they call the “new Turkey” change because of ISIL? This is the issue everyone needs to think about.
I spoke to Howard Shatz from RAND, who said ISIL’s financial resources need to be choked in order to win the war against it. ISIL’s biggest resource is oil. Do you know how they sell the oil? Through tankers that cross into Turkey every day and into the Kurdish region in northern Iraq. Perhaps some of this oil has gotten mixed with the oil that is transferred by companies from Iraq to Turkey.
Options for Turkey
Francis Ricciardone, the U.S. envoy to Ankara who left Turkey last July, said it clearly: “The Turks have worked with groups like al-Nusra, which not only did we not want them to work with, but which we also consider to be terrorist.”
The short-term reason behind Turkey’s unwillingness to support the fight against ISIL might well be the 49 Turkish hostages being held by the group. But there is a deeper problem.
In addition to what Riccardone said, there are commercial ties, there is the fact that sympathy for ISIL has started developing in certain segments of society due to the government’s silence, there are the activities of certain Turkish NGOs in the region… there is also a social dimension that goes beyond security concerns.
In this respect, ISIL is also about the issue of the future of Turkey as the only secular democracy in the Muslim world. Will Turkey be a majority Muslim country fighting against a radical structure and progressing toward the European Union’s standards of democracy? Or will it be a country attempting to integrate the radical structure into the system, beginning to resemble this structure and becoming increasingly Islamicized. In other words, will it become NATO’s Qatar?
At the end of the day, Qatar is also the U.S.’s partner. As I said, both options would suit the Americans. Which one would suit you?