Turkey’s Afrin op and the West
I am against all sorts of wars and military operations, regardless of their justification and legitimacy even in terms of international law. But that does not stop me from feeling revolted by French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent remarks on Turkey’s military operation in Afrin, which came after he recently seemed very happy to sell military equipment to Turkey.
It is indeed common for the great powers to try to restrain others in order to reserve major roles for themselves. This is the case with France concerning Syria. But France is perhaps the least legitimate power to claim moral superiority in Syrian affairs, as it has a very dark history in that country. It has invaded and bloodily suppressed Syrian revolts, bombing Damascus twice after World War I and World War II before finally being forced to recognize Syrian independence. International relations are based more on the principle of power than morality, but a French president should certainly be more restrained on the Syrian issue considering his country’s dark past there.
The reaction of Macron - who is an admirer of Napoleon and the French monarchy - may not be surprising. But it is still very disturbing. What’s more, this sort of carelessness and arrogance on the part of powerful Western states tends to justify the militaristic politics of regional powers like Turkey. The same principle is also valid for the U.S., which long sought to achieve regime change in Syria through destabilization. As part of this policy it was the U.S. that encouraged Turkey and other regional powers to organize and arm the “Syrian opposition.”
It is true that Turkey’s government ended up becoming more alarmed about the prospect Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria than anything else and started to target Kurdish militia. But it was primarily the U.S.’s misjudgments concerning Syria that exacerbated the danger of radical Islamism in the country. ISIS is a byproduct of the enforcement and arming of Islamists in Syria.
Indeed, many of the Islamists who were supported were not even local groups but transferred to Syria from many other countries, including Western countries. Many Islamists came to Syria from troubled places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Chechnya, where “jihadism” has been encouraged as a tool of misled Western policies. As for many of those who came from Western countries, they often reflect the problems of the integration and immigration of Muslims living in those societies. Others elsewhere also have disturbing stories, like the case of Lebanon. Many jihadists from Lebanon have been supported and armed by the Sunni party of major French ally Saad al-Hariri.
I do not mean to accuse Western powers and politics for all the ills in the world, in the region and in my own country. But Western hypocrisy certainly fosters religious nationalism and militaristic politics in our countries. Until the progressive voices for peace acknowledge these realities, we will lose the moral superiority necessary to convince our societies to embrace the politics of peace. Under current circumstances, those who regard French objections to Turkish military operations as legitimate or welcome U.S. warnings to the Turkish government will never be able to convince an ordinary person in Turkey about the sincerity of their politics of peace. We cannot console ourselves by saying problems are only the fault of warmongers who ignite the flames of the politics of war; it is also the responsibility of people who object to those politics to acknowledge that we must be convincing not only in the eyes of like-minded friends but also in the eyes of many others.