ISIL wins as ‘partners’ squabble

ISIL wins as ‘partners’ squabble

They say there is no smoke without fire. This is the way many people see U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks that angered President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Biden suggested during a speech at the Harvard Kennedy School on Oct. 2 that Turkey regretted the initial support it gave groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the hope they would help topple Bashar al-Assad.

He said Erdoğan admitted to him that this had been a mistake. It is hard to believe that the U.S. vice president would lie but that is what Erdoğan accused him of doing. We will never know what passed between the two men and why Biden came out with the impression he did.

Apart from the bit attributed to Erdoğan, what Biden said is not new, of course. The charge that Turkey aided ISIL and another radical Islamic group has been leveled for months and continues to be brought up by the opposition at home – including Kurdish parties – and in the Western media.

But it was never pronounced officially the way Biden did. Diplomats I talked to believe Biden committed a serious diplomatic “faux pas.” It appears this is not the first time he has put his foot in his mouth either. It does seem odd that he should have said what he did when the Turkish government just passed a bill in Parliament, which pleased Washington because it will enable Turkey to actively join the US-led coalition against ISIL.

Biden himself must have felt the same in the end because he called Erdoğan and issued the apology Erdoğan categorically demanded. Biden’s office said: “The vice president apologized for any implication that Turkey or other allies and partners in the region had intentionally supplied or facilitated the growth of ISIL or other violent extremists in Syria.”

Erdoğan’s opponents argue that while there may be an apology it does not fully clarify what Erdoğan is supposed to have said to Biden. At any rate the apology appears to have resolved the diplomatic crisis even though its aftertaste will no doubt linger for Erdoğan.

Securing an apology from the vice president of the number one superpower is no mean feat of course and gave Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu a convenient opportunity to gloat. He also turned the tables on the U.S., and other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, for not listening to Turkey on Syria and allowing things to get out of hand.

These seemingly futile exchanges come at a time when Turks are still wondering what the mandate the government received from Parliament last week will mean in real terms. That mandate allows Turkey to send troops into Iraq and Syria against ISIL, if and when this is deemed necessary, and to admit foreign forces into Turkey for the same purpose.

The government has this mandate now and is making some angry noises on the basis of it but is reflecting no urgency to act. Some government spokesmen are even suggesting that no action should be expected and that this mandate was merely precautionary.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which voted against the mandate, believes that Biden’s remarks are an attempt at goading Turkey into sending troops against ISIL because the U.S. and European countries have no intention of doing so.

Meanwhile, developments in Kobane, where Kurds are putting up a desperate fight against ISIL with little if any outside help, also indicate a lack of urgency on the part of members of the U.S.-led coalition – including Turkey – despite lofty remarks about being committed to fighting ISIL.

The impression one gets is that every coalition member has its own agenda and is looking to others to do something that will make a difference on the battlefield. Otherwise it is all about “aiding refugees,” or “providing logistic support,” or “participating in airstrikes” which, as seen in Kobane, have limited effect against ISIL.

No wonder then that ISIL appears to be advancing while others squabble over who did, or did not do, what in the past.