Where are the boots?
Many people would remember the bold statements like, “What is NATO doing in Libya?” One would have thought Turkey was against the Libya operation. Alas, the next day, it was the same gentlemen in Ankara who ordered Turkish ships to sail off the Libyan coast to protect the NATO operation aiding the Libyan opposition. Soon, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who was at the time the foreign minister, personally carried $300 million stashed in suitcases to win the loyalty of the Libyan opposition.
Turkey was late in acting on Libya; the French and the British reaped the economic benefits of the operation. So, Turkey was among the first to act against Bashar al-Assad when the time came to put Syria under fire. After all, with “brother” Mohamed Morsi in power in Egypt and Gadhafi removed in Libya, Turkey ushered its relations into the “zero problem” era that Davutoğlu had promised. In the end, Turkish businesses were devastated in both countries and tens of thousands of Turkish businessmen had to abandon their machine parks to escape back to Turkey. Still, Turkey no longer had any problems with either.
In Syria, the calculation was that al-Assad would fall in weeks and Turkey, as one of the leading countries in supporting the “Free Syria Army,” would reap the benefits. Those calculations proved to be wrong. Al-Assad did not fall within weeks. Turkey’s Western allies realized within a short time that the “opposition” they were supporting was, if not worse, then at least as cruel as the dictator they wanted to remove. Worse, the “opposition” groups were radical Islamists, like their “brothers” who ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak and established an oppressive Islamist government in Cairo.
Corrective moves began with the General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi coup in Cairo, and the Muslim Brothers who came to power through street demonstrations were removed by the army, again assisting street demonstrations. Men dakka dukka.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was composed of elements of the former Baathist military of Iraq and Salafist groups from all across the region – even from Europe and beyond – forging a kind of Islamist Caliphate coalition. It was first active in Syria, then moved on to Iraq, where, thanks to faulty U.S. policies, there is still an intense power vacuum.
The beast benefited from Iraq’s fertile breeding ground, gained strength, carved itself out an “Islamic State” and moved back to its first operational ground, Syria. That move brought added human trauma for the Syrian people of all ethnicities and religions, and also posed a serious threat to Turkey: Within just the last 10 days, more than 140,000 refugees have sought refuge in Turkish territory, bringing the overall number of refugees close to 2 million.
Those in Ankara were reluctant to enter a war with ISIL, fearing that the 49 hostages the gang kidnapped from Turkey’s Mosul consulate three months ago might be murdered like the foreign journalists who were brutally beheaded. It was in that atmosphere that Turkey shied away from joining the anti-ISIL coalition the U.S. wanted to forge. Now the hostages are freed – how and at what cost is still not clearly known, though there are credible reports that Turkey aided with the release of some 50 ISIL militia and family members held by an anti-ISIL Islamist group.
On the other hand, ISIL’s attacking Kurdish, Turkmen and Assyrian villages close to the Turkish border with Syria produced an added burden of around 140,000 new refugees. The UNHCR and Turkey fear this number might reach as high as 400,000 within weeks.
It has become a characteristic of this government to boldly declare something, but then do just the opposite. Turkey has remained cool on joining an anti-ISIL coalition apparently because of the Turkish hostages and other “morality” reasons. Now, not only focused on aerial operations, the Turkish government is busy charting plans to declare a buffer zone and a no-fly zone along the Turkish border with Syria. Such a zone might require boots on the ground to enforce.