Time to reconsider Syria policy

Time to reconsider Syria policy

The fundamental duty of senior advisers, particularly those advising top political figures on key foreign and defense policy issues, must be to try to prevent policymakers from making sentimental, emotional and indeed prejudiced decisions. Leaders might have their own perceptions and indeed prejudices, but countries like Turkey that have centuries of state traditions and rich history of political conduct under very tense conditions — rather than individual aspirations, hopes, plans or prejudices and national interests — ought to dominate the decision-making mechanism.

Recently, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has been in efforts to make a comeback. Openly and discreetly he has been criticizing the way the country is being administered, suggesting a reconsideration of some domestic and foreign policy objectives. Issuing memorandums or spreading some new political plans are easier said than done.

Of course, we might have sharp differences of opinion regarding what Turkey’s national interests are or from which perspective the national interests of the country might fit the aspirations of the current political team in office well.

Yet, after so many years of suffering, blood and millions of refugees in Turkey, it must be clear for everyone that it was not Turkey’s national interest at all to build the country’s Syria policy on the sentimental mindset of the Syrian and Turkish leaders or the perception of friendship the premier of the time, Davutoğlu, had.

When Turkey’s Syria policy was replaced with an obsessive “Bashar al-Assad must go” slogan rather than the traditional “elder regional big brother” role that was providing Turkey with impressive mediating capabilities, not only Syria but Turkey lost as well.

Turkey’s national interests required policymakers to take into consideration national security, peace and tranquility of Turkish territories, state of the economy, economic advantages and maintaining robust relations. Turkey’s national interests of course also required proper planning on how to avoid millions of refugees knocking on Turkey’s doors should the problem in Syria be evolved into a civil war. End result? Turkey is now hosting over four million Syrian refugees, and if Idlib explodes – which will explode one day – a further 1.5 to three million refugees will flood to Turkey again.

We might sit back and enjoy ourselves at some splendid cafes or continue seeking solution to the problem through lofty analyses stressing Turkey’s greatness and how well it treated the Syrian refugees and how badly the West behaved on the issue. Well, no complaints regarding that but the problem is there and such arguments cannot provide a solution.

On the contrary, if we continue to ignore the social repercussions of the worsening economy and presence of such a huge number of “privileged” refugees the country has been hosting with very little effort to integrate them, we might have some very serious problems tomorrow.

What’s happening at some social democratic municipalities – which are another farce – must be taken very seriously. Cutting social support programs to the refugees should be considered as a serious warning of an approaching pogrom against the Syrian people who were compelled to leave their homeland for a bit of security and humane living conditions in Turkey.

Those ruling Turkey might not love Syria’s dictator. I am sure many countries do not like the way Turkey is being administered. Neither do they have the right to advise Turks on what kind of a president they should have nor do Turkish leaders have the right to bestow a leader of their liking for the Syrian nation. Turkey’s fundamental national interest requires it to work and find ways of establishing normalcy – at whatever level it might be possible – and resume diplomatic relations with Damascus.

Is it not Turkey’s fundamental interest to work for the protection of national and territorial integrity of Syria; to bring an end to the destabilization of Syria; to help Syria avoid creation of mini states (including a Kurdish one) on its territory; and to arrange a Syria that is safe enough for the return of Syrian refugees – at least a big portion of them – to Syria?

I may add more to this list. But the list begins with normalization with the regime in Damascus not because Turkey loves Assad, but that is a requirement of Turkish national interests.

Yusuf Kanlı,