On the verge of a Parliament decision to send troops to Iraq and Syria, Turkey’s ruling party and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are almost in déjà vu.
It all feels like 2003 again, when the U.S. requested to use Turkish land to send troops to Iraq. At that time, Erdoğan was not even a deputy of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Now, ironically, he is again out of the party structure, but at the top of the Turkish state.
The decision to send troops has created a subtle, but important shift among AKP lines. Those faithful to Erdoğan are supporting the vote halfheartedly, but for Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, it looks like a matter of life and death. Erdoğan, probably for the first time in his life in government, is not shying away from supporting the Turkish Armed Forces. According to sources close to the talks, Davutoğlu, more than Erdoğan, believes the time is right to make an imperial move into the Middle East.
In the briefings that took place all week in Ankara, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MİT) described the options of engagement in Syrian territory. The TSK have clearly spelled out to a group of ministers that going deeper than 3 kilometers into Syrian territory carries greater risks than what was foreseen. Clearly, the army’s scenarios include being locked in crossfire between the pro-Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) People’s Defense Units’ (YPG) forces and ISIL.
The top generals also see the risk of sending a big contingency into Syria, where Turkey has little experience in fighting. The terrain is very flat, and there are very few places to hide. The fighting factions are numerous and very mobile. This kind of warfare is completely new to the TSK, which have fought the PKK in the mountains for two decades. There, the fog of war can be so thick that your drones may not even help you spot your targets.
Ankara’s decision to accept foreign troops is another thorny issue. On March 1, 2003, the Turkish Parliament had refused to grant access to U.S. troops hoping to use Turkey as even a zone of transit.
In a closed Parliament session, Abdullah Gül, then Prime Minister, had implied to lawmakers that voting “yes” was the only option because of economic hardships. After 11 years, the U.S. is treading more carefully to convince Ankara about land use. But of course, unlike in 2003, there is very little opposition from the mainstream media this time.
Economically, supporting the anti-ISIL alliance might be Turkey’s best bet. With every mortar shell hitting Turkey on Sept. 29-30, the stock market lost points and interest rates increased. Over the weekend, Fitch will most likely downgrade the outlook for Turkey. As war approaches, Turkey becomes increasingly vulnerable to external monetary factors.
The Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) deputy chairman Ertuğrul Kürkçü was probably the only politician who politically challenged the government. “Having Iraq and Syria on the same plan implies some other motives than [what is] seen,” he said in a CNN TÜRK interview. Turkey has overplayed its hand and used too much time. As the cards are reshuffled in the area, the time may be right for a margin call.