Ankara must lead the pressure against Damascus
Washington’s ineffective Syrian policy once more displays how much weaker the U.S. has gotten since its occupation of Iraq in 2003. Then, the mighty U.S. military deposed a strong dictator within weeks. Eight years later, the same Washington now is feeling a great pressure from within and out to do anything meaningful to prevent the Bashar al-Assad regime to stop killing its own people to little avail.
Only a few months earlier, during the beginning of the Libya uprising, things were simpler for Washington. The Franco/British axis led the European coalition; the Arab League extended an unprecedented back up for NATO to intervene in a Muslim country. Moammar Gadhafi further helped international consciousness to be garnered when he threatened publicly to wipe out rebels in Benghazi and consequently assured a rapid United Nations Security Council resolution to be passed to legitimize the military action.
Syria has proved to be a much bigger challenge. First off, the Libyan intervention did not go as well as many hoped it would. Despite heavy NATO bombardment for months, the civil war has dragged into its fourth month, while Gaddafi is still clinging to power with every possible means in his disposal. On Wednesday, even though Chris Stevens, U.S. representative to the Transitional National Council, or TNC, drew a rosier picture for Libya during his briefing at the State Department, extending warfare makes it much harder for the West to have a stronger leverage against Damascus. Responding to my question, Stevens cited Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Turkey as fellow Muslim majority countries, whose support TNC is very pleased with. Stevens did not mention the Arab League, neither whether the League is doing anything to change its image or to pressure the Assad regime to stop its carnage.
One senior State Department official argued this week that the reason U.S. still does not call Assad to step down openly is because it is not sure if such a call would make any difference on the ground. Simply, it appears from these background talks that the current U.S. administration cares more about the U.S.’ own reputation than supporting the legitimate demands of Syrian people.
In reality, in the face of its dismal economic numbers, scratched military sources around the world and very much dysfunctional government with its endless fights, even the most hawkish American experts dare to advocate for any military action for Syria. Sanctions to isolate the Syrian regime seem to be the only policy option, at least for the foreseeable future. The Assad regime, on the other hand, as if they all are very much aware of the grim fiscal and political situation of both European Union and U.S., is taking the advantage to continue crashing peaceful protesters.
Senator Lindsey Graham, during an interview this week, stated that Turkey should lead the international coalition of pressure on Syrian regime, since the U.S. is in no position to hurt Syria by sanctions, which is the argument U.S. Ambassador to Damascus Robert Ford also essentially backed up during his Senate hearing confirmation. The spokesperson of the senator did not seem to have anything else to add when I contacted, so I asked both White House Spokesman Jay Carney and the State Department Spokesman Mark Toner whether U.S. sees Turkey leading such pressure against Syrian regime as Graham described. Both Carney and Toner praised the Turkish role and cooperation towards Syria, though fell short elaborating senator’s argument further.
Economically sound, politically stable Turkey which receives one of the highest approval ratings from Arab people in terms of its leadership, is uniquely positioned to do much to isolate Assad and even to lead such coalition of pressure against him.
Syria is a case for Turkey to assert its moral leadership in the region which was tainted badly earlier in the decade with its close comradeship with many of the region’s dictators.
Otherwise, in all seriousness, this time Washington seems to have nothing to offer for stopping a massacre.