Will President Obama Surrender?
Last week I asked in this column whether Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would surrender to President Obama during their meeting in Washington on Thursday. In other words, whether Ankara would conform to the U.S. and Russia who agreed to bring the Syrian regime and opposition to the negotiating table in Geneva in the upcoming weeks. The answer is both yes and no.
All signs indicate that Ankara has come to terms with the U.S. and Russia on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s engagement in negotiations and the involvement of the ruling Baath regime in the political transition. This has been a major shift in Ankara’s position, which had been insisting on excluding the Assad regime from the equation in contrast to Russia. During their joint press conference at the White House on Thursday, Obama described the Syrian crisis as an international problem, adding they would work together with the international community, especially with Russia, toward resolution. Erdoğan, who will travel to Moscow after his visit to Washington, also emphasized the importance of Russia’s and China’s involvement. Likewise President Abdullah Gül separately said on Friday that strong players like China and Russia should not be left out of a resolution. Apparently Ankara agreed in principle to forming a Syrian coalition between the regime and its opponents and will play an important role during the Geneva process.
Yet Erdoğan did not surrender on another front. Even though Obama reiterated his longstanding position by ruling out unilateral U.S. military action, Erdoğan brought the “no-fly zone” issue to the front when speaking at the Brookings Institution a day after their bilateral meeting. He said the issue could be discussed during the Geneva talks and only be settled at the U.N. Security Council. In his meeting with the Turkish press at the Turkish Embassy the same day, he added that new decisions could be taken if Geneva talks ended with the expected results. It is obvious that Erdoğan has not given up hope on a more active and even military engagement from the U.S., which would change the whole regional dynamic.
However, hopes about the upcoming Geneva talks seem to be somewhat dampened since Russia sent advanced anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria last week and also voiced its demand to include Iran in Geneva talks. Yet Turkey cannot afford for another try to be wasted. Its stakes are too high. Last week’s Reyhanlı bombings were a striking example of how the Syrian regime is sowing the seeds of a regional sectarian conflict that threatens Turkey’s stability. All this is also bad news for the U.S. which truly needs Turkey as one of its few stable, strong allies in the region. Hence no matter how the Geneva process ends, it is certain that the two leaders will have to overcome their deep divisions and pursue a more outright and sharp common policy on Syria.
So here comes our new question: Will Obama surrender to more activism? This time the answer is already there: Sure.