For Ankara, it’s time for deeds not words on Syria
“Things change dramatically every day in Syria, in Libya, in the whole region. And so I understand impatience, and certainly for every day that the Syrian people suffer at the hands of the (Bashar) al-Assad regime is a day too many. But we are working with our international partners to ratchet up pressure on the regime. We have called for al-Assad to step down. We will continue to take actions to isolate and pressure that regime,” said Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, when I pressed him by asking, “Nothing has changed” in Syria since the U.S. and other Western countries called on al-Assad “to step down” weeks ago by reminding him that the Syrian forces continue their deadly crackdowns every day.
Indeed, I was playing devil’s advocate with Carney while bringing up several Syria-related issues before him this week. International pressure already made Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s standing much weaker by all accounts. While articulating international pressure, the U.S. administration this week often used Turkish President Abdullah Gül’s latest sharp condemnation on al-Assad in which Gül stated, “Assad has reached a point where anything would be too little, too late,” and he said he “lost confidence in Syria.”
It is important to note that following Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s warning against the repeat of Hama massacre and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s visit to Damascus two weeks ago, Syrian tanks withdrew from the city of Hama and Turkish officials cited this development as a result of his visit. This week, the symbolism of Syrian forces returning to Hama to arrest, torture and kill more people surely has not been lost on Ankara.
Comparing initial Turkish puzzlement toward the Libya uprising, Turkey has not fallen apart from the Western line against the Syrian regime thus far, even though Turkey hasn’t yet repeated the West’s calls for al-Assad to step down. Turkey’s special ties and neighbor status with Syria are well understood by Washington.
One serious impediment for international pressure to turn into tangible support for the Syrian opposition is the disparity of these groups. Activists’ accounts and direct messages from various Syrian opposition members this week only confirmed that among and between opposition expats and inside Syria there is some tension present.
As long as the Syrian opposition is unable to display a degree of altruism to unite, it will be far more difficult for outsiders to repeat what they did with Libya’s National Transitional Council.
Al-Assad is a stronger dictator in a much more fragile location. Despite these, there are several reasons for Turkey to take the lead in the international campaign against the al-Assad regime at this time, as it left that place for French and British during the Libya uprising.
First, Syria is Turkey’s immediate neighbor and a post-Assad regime has to have affinity toward Ankara if Ankara is determined to continue exerting influence in the Middle East in the coming years.
The West called on al-Assad to step down, and they will do everything in their disposal to see he goes. Syria on its way to being a pariah state, appears to be backed only by another international outcast, Iran, which is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the West. Even Tehran reportedly tried to contact the Syrian opposition this week in Paris.
At this point, Ankara also has used all the rough diplomatic language it can against al-Assad and has met with zero results. Repeating harsher warnings over and again only will create an image of an ineffective Ankara in the region.
While Turkey continues to cultivate its ties with the Syrian opposition factions, and providing them logistics to coordinate, as it has been doing for some time, it now must begin taking action beyond issuing warnings.
Ankara can start discussing how to sanction al-Assad while reassessing its diplomatic presence there, since obviously al-Assad does not heed Ankara’s advice.
Turkish officials have said many times in the past that whatever happens in Syria is Turkey’s own domestic affairs.
Time to prove it!