The more Turkey tries, the more it seems to fail

The more Turkey tries, the more it seems to fail

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu finally put to rest speculation about a possible invasion of Syria by Turkey. It was his remarks which fueled this debate in the first place. 

He said last week that if things were based on a result-oriented strategy, then Turkey could mount a land operation against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) together with Saudi Arabia.

Coming at a highly sensitive time when both Ankara and Riyadh are at odds with the United States over Syria, and when Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is issuing angry warnings to Syrian Kurdish fighters, Çavuşoğlu’s remarks were interpreted in the broadest sense and in a manner that included every possibility.

One expects the foreign minister of an important regional country to weigh his words before he speaks on such delicate matters. As matter stand, Çavuşoğlu had to clarify his remarks in a way that was interpreted by the Western media as “back-peddling.” 

In his latest interview with Reuters, Çavuşoğlu says that “Some countries like us, Saudi Arabia and some other Western European countries have said that a ground operation is necessary.” He adds, however, that “To expect this only from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar is neither right nor realistic.”

Given that none of Turkey’s Western allies are even remotely close to supporting the idea of sending ground troops to Syria, Ankara’s efforts to promote this idea remain stillborn.

Meanwhile, Ankara’s efforts to have the YPG, and its political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), classified as “terrorist organizations” remain equally futile. On the contrary, Turkey’s Western allies have all but come around to accepting them as the legitimate representative of the Syrian Kurds. 

But instead of reviewing its policy on this score, given that it is not going anywhere, Ankara is insisting on maintaining it against growing odds. This in turn is increasing the anger felt by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who appears to believe that using less than diplomatic language will somehow alter the situation.

Erdogan’s latest salvo in this regard was aimed at U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, whom he met not so long ago in Istanbul but failed to convince on the PYD and YPG issue. Answering reporters’ questions on Tuesday during a joint press conference with Yemen’s visiting president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, Erdoğan did not spare his barbs.

Pointing to Turkey’s shelling of YPG positions in Syria, Erdoğan said: “Those who refer to this as the shelling of Syrian Kurds have to first be honest. I call on them to be honest.” 

Although Erdoğan did not openly name him, his remark were clearly aimed at Biden. A White House readout of Biden’s phone conversation with Davutoğlu on Feb. 14, during which Turkey’s shelling of YPG positions was discussed, indicated that “the vice president noted U.S. efforts to discourage Syrian Kurdish forces from exploiting current circumstances to seize additional territory near the Turkish border, and urged Turkey to show reciprocal restraint by ceasing artillery strikes in the area.”

These calculated remarks clearly indicated that not only is Washington not prepared to forgo its military alliance with the YPG, but also that it now sees this group as a “Syrian Kurdish force.”

Put another way, the more Turkey insists on maintaining its obviously failed policy in Syria in general, and the PYD and YPG in particular, the more intractable the situation will become for it. 

Floating improbable ideas and then having to clarify them later, as well as pushing for things that clearly are not going to happen, are not hallmarks of a country that has a sound and realistic approach to complicated foreign policy and security issues.