Will Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan surrender?
Turkish officials confirmed that May 11’s deadly explosions on the Turkish-Syrian border are linked with the Syrian regime. This has been the biggest incident of cross-border violence since the start of the Syrian civil war. It happened amidst reports from multiple countries on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime, the Israeli airstrikes against missiles intended for Hezbollah and a worsening refugee crisis. In addition to the spillover effects of the conflict, the domestic picture is also getting worse. Bashar al-Assad is still in power and the extremely divided Syrian opposition is increasingly losing ground, showing no power or capacity to force regime change at all. Plus, the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra, the military backbone of the Syrian opposition, is rapidly gaining altitude.
It is this background that shifted the American and Russian attitudes. The two countries have recently taken the lead to find a solution to the crisis by declaring their commitment to bringing the sides of the conflict to the negotiating table and announcing an international conference to take place in upcoming weeks. This obvious shift reflects the moderation in the U.S.’ expectations for change in Syria and a surrender to making al-Assad part of the solution.
It seems there remains only Turkey along with two regional powers, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, that are stubbornly insisting on excluding the al-Assad regime from the equation. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu stated during his visit to Jordan last week that Turkey would not accept any member of the al-Assad regime to become part of the next era in Syria. In the early phase of the conflict, Turkey was in the company of many countries in terms of this stance but governments caved in to the facts on the ground: Al-Assad is still a factor in the equation not only among global powers, but also in his own country. Hence it is almost certain that he will become part of the solution process.
This brings forth the big question about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s upcoming meeting with President Barack Obama in two days. Will Erdoğan surrender?
U.S. and Turkish interests on Syria diverge due to their different concerns. The U.S.’ fear of the radical Islamists’ takeover in the country supersedes its concerns about al-Assad. Turkey’s primary worry, on the other hand, is Kurdish autonomy in Syria, which could spark similar ambitions among Turkey’s Kurds. Hence Ankara’s insistence on Sunni domination, which makes Turkey appear sectarian and on the side of the jihadists. Yet Ankara and Washington have to focus on their mutual fears which are more chemical weapons, more refugees and more explosions. This will require Ankara to conform to the parameters which were recently accepted by the U.S. and Russia: al-Assad’s engagement in negotiations and a political transition including elements from the ruling Baath regime. This is also a must if Ankara wants to become part of the solution process.
Let me recall Darwin’s golden rule: The species that survives is the one that is best able to adapt to the changing environment.