Syria and the Golden Rule

Syria and the Golden Rule

There are struggles for survival going on all around Turkey. It has always been this way. There is one in Syria to the south. More than one generation of Iranians also grew up in that way. We should not forget about Israel either, and even add Putin’s Russia to the picture. Turks definitely have a clear knowledge of the feeling. The Turkish Republic was founded on an existential threat, as its empire crumbled to dust. It is fear that shapes policy in our neighborhood. Incumbent leaders are in a hopeless struggle to consolidate their gains, ever watchful of someone coming in taking what is theirs (read Chiozza and Goemans’ “Leadership and International Conflict”).

Last week Syria shot down a Turkish military jet supposedly on a training mission. It was flying low, some say as though it were trying to identify targets for an imminent NATO air attack, like that in Libya. Turkey has noted that the downed jet only briefly violated Syrian airspace. After the incident, the first piece of information Turkey provided was the log of Turkish airspace violations, numbering 114 since January 2012. “Look, it has happened to us 114 times since the beginning of this year, and we didn’t shoot at anybody.” That was the initial reaction.

After deliberations, Turkey announced a change of the rules of engagement on its Syrian border: Its army would henceforth view any approaching Syrian forces as military targets. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan very clearly expressed Turkey’s hostility toward the Syrian side in this announcement. The incident itself showed that Syria had already changed its rules of engagement, without any prior announcement.

But what caused Syria’s change of heart? It probably has something to do with increasing Turkish activity to arm the Syrian rebels. I always have difficulty in understanding the Syrian army. It seemed like a Facebook army at the outset. Now there are more and more incidents inside Syria. In the past, Syria has sponsored Kurdish rebels inside Turkey. Now Turkey seems to be sponsoring a similar insurgency inside Syria. We didn’t like it when it was done to us, and the Syrians seem to hate it now. Treat people the way you want to be treated, the Bible says. Perhaps there is still wisdom in that for Turkey, too.

The Russians, at least, seem to have a sound understanding of Biblical wisdom. It must be their feeling of existential struggle. I was in Moscow two weeks ago. A Russian analyst connected Libya to Syria, asking whether Libya was the beginning of a road ending in Moscow. He was saying that this is why “Russia has to be firm and draw a red line on Syria.” This sounds so Middle Eastern. Why are the Russians following biblical orders strictly? They have their own fears.

This has suddenly become the age of Facebook and Twitter revolts against undemocratic regimes. People are demanding to be treated as equals in places where a few rule over the many. Perhaps they want to replicate the egalitarian feeling of the Internet. Have you ever seen Facebook activity plotted on a map of the world? Activity is overwhelmingly concentrated in the West. It is the demonstration effect.