All we needed was Obama

All we needed was Obama

Just before the U.S. presidential elections, Washington had signaled that a more active Syria policy was to follow in the coming months, by taking the initiative of composing an umbrella organization for the Syrian opposition and promoting a meeting in Doha toward this end. British Prime Minister David Cameron, meanwhile, within hours of the re-election of President Obama, urged the U.S. to join the U.K. in working directly with the Syrian opposition. Similar calls came from other European countries as well.

The U.K. is breaking new ground itself. David Cameron simultaneously announced that it was going to open talks with the Syrian armed opposition groups and offer an extra $22 million in humanitarian aid, making it the second largest donor to the Syrian rebels after the U.S. On the Turkish scene, prior to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s visit to Brussels last week, Reuters quoted a senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official who said that Ankara was to make an imminent request to NATO for the deployment of Patriot missiles on Turkish soil to guard against violence spilling over. Despite the subsequent conflicting statements from top Turkish officials about whether Turkey had made such a request, or whether without Turkey’s demand NATO was making its own preparations to defend its member by itself, it is crystal clear that we won’t be waiting before Patriot missiles are deployed on the Turkish border. On top of that came Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent statement that Turkey expects the U.S. to take a more active role and different steps in the Syrian crisis now that the election season is over.

These all draw a new picture. Apparently, all sides had put their agendas on hold pending the U.S
elections. Obama himself is no exception to that. Even just the Doha meeting itself represents a major shift in the tactics of his administration. The previous low-maintenance approach did not prove to be enough for Syria. While still ruling out military intervention, Washington will speak up more, pursue a more direct strategy, and intensify its response to the crisis. This could end up with more U.S. pressure on the United Nations and the wider international community, a more aggressive role in shaping the Syrian political landscape, and a no-fly or safe zone along the Turkish border.

Ankara would certainly welcome the U.S.’s “low-cost leadership” wholeheartedly. However, this is just one side of the coin. On the other side, the new phase is not short of complications for Turkey-U.S. relations. To name a few: The new umbrella opposition group would most probably include elements which are not favorable for Turkey, the U.S. is concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood’s growing influence and the dominance of Jihadist elements in the political landscape, and the possible formation of a semi-autonomous Kurdish entity in northern Syria.

The outcome of “heads or tails” is determined purely by divine will. Turkey and the U.S., however, would not flip a coin - they are in a position to determine which side comes up.