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SEMİH İDİZ > Turks against Syria intervention

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The results of the latest global trends survey by the German Marshall Fund appears to belie claims from the government that it has public support for its Syria policy, which also includes the option of a military intervention in the country. According to the findings of the survey, 57 percent of those questioned said Turkey should not get involved in Syria militarily, whether or not the United Nations has given the go ahead for such an intervention or not.

This does not mean, of course, that the remaining 43 percent favor an intervention. There are clearly many who are either undecided or do not have a clear view on the matter to comment either way. But it is clear even in one’s daily contacts with the proverbial barber, grocer or taxi driver that not too many people are prepared to come out and say unequivocally that Turkey should get embroiled in the Syrian crisis militarily.

This is not a result that can be too pleasing for the government which is trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to get the international community to act on Syria. What Ankara means by “acting” amounts to military intervention, of course. What is proposed, after all, is a safe zone for refugees inside Syria which will be protected from the air, and by boots on the ground.

But Foreign Minister Davutoğlu failed recently to get the Security Council to move in this direction. Russia and China are vehemently opposed to such ideas. But there appears to be little appetite on the part of Turkey’s allies to also act along these lines.

But it is clear that the government has not convinced the Turkish public on Syria either, let alone its allies or the international community at large. If anything, more and more Turks are questioning why the country has been brought to the brink of war with a neighboring country, especially since no apparent vital national interests are at stake.

Making matters worse for the government is that criticism of its Syria policy has started to come from quarters that are considered to be close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). One example is Fehmi Koru, a prominent journalist and commentator on the “Islamist” side of the media fence, who is known to have close ties with members of the government.

Even Koru felt the need to warn the government recently, in his column in daily Star, that it should not insist on continuing with a Syria policy that is increasingly seen by the public as having been too hastily put together without sufficient prior thought.

The Recep Tayyip Erdoğan government had more support initially in presenting its Syria policy as “a humanitarian one based on aiding oppressed Islamic people against their oppressors.”

Had the Bashar al-Assad regime been toppled without delay when demonstrations first started, this line would have provided political dividends for the government.

But al-Assad’s staying power changed all that. While the tragedy unfolding in Syria is sad to behold for most Turks, the fear that Ankara is being sucked into something unknowingly and blindly is on the increase. Prime Minister Erdoğan continues to oppose any settlement proposal for Syria that has the al-Assad regime sitting at the same table as the Syrian opposition.

His line is still that “the oppressed should not be forced to sit down to talks with the oppressor.” Erdoğan also accuses those who oppose this view of his of being “sympathizers of the Baathist regime.” But events in Syria point to an increasingly bloody civil war, and such views as Erdoğan’s only aggravate the situation.

Whether the Erdoğan government likes it or not, the world is faced with a growing forest fire in Syria that is threatening to spread to the whole region. This is why Turkey’s first priority should be to put the fire out rather than retain a position which some say is actually stoking it.

The bottom line is that Ankara should have learned by now that it has much less leeway in Syria, or the Middle East in general, in terms of influencing developments than it may have initially thought, and it’s time for it to align its policies with this hard fact.

September/14/2012

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