by Zainab Cheema (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 9, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1433)
Turkey’s “zero problem” policy with neighbours, as articulated by its “scholarly” foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, has come crashing down to earth against the hard reality of events in Syria.
Turkey has called for a ceasefire in its hostilities against Syria, in commemoration of October’s Eid al-Adha festivities. The diplomatic encounter between the Arab League (that is, Pentagon Inc.) negotiator, Lakhdar Brahimi and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, was rife with irony. Even as Erdogan’s Turkey demonstrates its loyalty to Islamic holidays, it cements its status as one of NATO’s devout, prayer-bead sporting warlords after its declaration of war on Syria.
When Turkey initially signed onto NATO’s Syrian expedition, it adopted a covert role that included Erdogan railing against the Asad regime’s humanitarian violations, while green-lighting the use of its 900-kilometer border with Syria for NATO-armed militias to conduct terrorist operations inside Syria. Erdogan’s reputation as a “street-fighter” (as per the WikiLeaked US classified report on him) was burnished anew, as he castigated al-Asad with the bitterness of someone about to grow wings and halo of an avenging angel.
This fact was noted by the Israeli and Zionist press. The vehemence of Erodgan’s rhetoric has even been pointed out in an article by Zionist witch-hunter Daniel Pipes (the organizer of the Middle East Forum and Campus Watch, among other enterprising initiatives seeking to enshrine Israeli interest at the expense of free speech in the US public sphere). “Why is the Turkish government acting so aggressively against the Asad regime in Syria?” asks Pipes in his article titled “Erdogan and Assad at War” for National Review Online. If Erdogan, characterized in the article as the leader of a “clever Islamist party,” draws surprise from Pipes, then the Turkish Prime Minister has reached a new low.
As many political observers have noted, Turkey’s military engagement with Syria represents the final nail in the coffin to Turkeys’ “zero-problems” policy, which sought to build Turkey’s regional ties with the Muslim East, including Iran, Syria, and Lebanon; as well as with historic NATO competitors, such as China and Russia. The idea was a romantic version of “build it and they will come.” That is, Turkey would fully cash-in on its geostrategic position — it would continue its business ties with Europe and its military ties with NATO, while expanding its economic and cultural influence over the Muslim East. Dubbed as neo-Ottomanization by a nervous Pentagon Inc., the policy garnered Turkey the support of the Arabian and Muslim world, especially after Erdogan demonstrated his willingness to quash the secularization enshrined in Turkey since Mustafa Kamal Ataturk; and take on Israel, through the Mavi Marmara incident and by storming off a Davos stage in January 2009 after Shimon Peres refused to apologize for the Palestinian massacre in Gaza.
When sitting on the fence, one encounters the danger of slipping and falling like the storied Humpty-Dumpty. NATO was only willing to cut Turkey so much slack until it jerked the leash — and it appears that publicly humiliating Israel, as did Erdogan, was the final straw. Fast forward — Erdogan Bey who once publicly dreamed of rebuilding the Ottomon Empire and squaring the historic humiliation of Western Europe’s contempt for the “sick man of Europe,” is now busy acting as NATO’s loyal shield-maiden.
After ratcheting up his rhetoric against al-Asad, once dubbed “my brother” before an indignant Pentagon Inc. Erdogan authorized the Turkish military to cross the border and begin military attacks on al-Asad’s forces, after a stray Syrian shell fell on a Turkish border town on October 3. Syria apologized profusely, but to no avail —the Rubicon had been crossed.
Turkey promptly fired mortar shells in retaliation. Erdogan took to the stage to declare that while Ankara did not want conflict, it is “not far away from war” — while US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta expressed tender concern that the situation could escalate. According to a report, 12 Syrian soldiers had been killed as a result of Turkish fire. Five Syrian tanks, three armored vehicles, one mortar weapon, one ammunition vehicle and two anti-aircraft guns had also been destroyed and many other military vehicles had been damaged. Turkey has since authorized the deployment of 250 tanks, jets, helicopter gunships, troops, artillery emplacements and antiaircraft batteries on the joint border it shares with Syria. Meanwhile, NATO vows that it will “back” Turkey — that is, camouflage its forces under Turkey’s petticoat and launch a fullscale invasion of Syria.
Turkey also used F-16s to ground a Syrian Airlines Airbus bound for Damascus from Russia on October 10, on the pretext that it was carrying ammunitions and dangerous materials intended to aid the Syrian Army against Pentagon Inc.’s militias. Erdogan claimed that it was a Russian arms manufacturer sending weapons to the Syrian Foreign Ministry. “This Russian arms manufacturer does not produce apples or pears,” he stated. Even the Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu questioned the extravagance of Erdogan et al’s statements, asking, “I wonder what the ammunition includes? Were there bombs, guns or grenades in that plane?” As it was eventually revealed, the plane was carrying radar equipment and not weapons, and that Turkey grounded the plane on US orders. Russia, with whom Turkey has enjoyed solid economic and diplomatic ties, was outraged.
Ever moderate, Erdogan took to the United Nations platform in order to castigate Russia and China for vetoing UN resolutions against Syria, referring to them as “one or two members of the permanent five.” He then went on to demand an overhaul of the Security Council. In short, Turkey has lost all the relationships it cultivated outside of the NATO paddock, abandoning its earlier promise to evolve as a bona fide regional leader in the Muslim East. It has dwindled to the status of a Pentagon Inc. attack dog, one in the dangerous position of being used to erase the Islamic orientation of the Arab Spring. In addition, the Erdogan administration cannot count on NATO returning its loyalty — the voluble distaste recorded in WikiLeaks’ documents on Erdogan’s “Islamism” comes to mind.
If the Eid al-Adha ceasefire fanned hopes that the sacred holiday would lead to an easing of Turkish-Syrian aggression, those hopes would be displaced. According to military analysts quoted in the Turkish periodical Milliyet, Turkey is acting on a pre-scripted plan of escalation designed to bring down the Asad regime by any means necessary. As Ron Jacobs writing for Counterpunch has observed, “a proponent of pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism, the Damascus government has been a constant threat to Israel’s dream of a Greater Israel and, simultaneously, to Washington’s plans to dominate the region” for decades. With respect to NATO, it’s a win-win situation to leave the dirty job to a despised fall guy — Turkey’s Islamists that once posed such a threat to Pentagon Inc.’s map for the Muslim East.
Turkey’s curious position as an “Islamist” power passionately aiding the agenda of the US and Israel — the same pro-Zionist nexus Erdogan so proudly displayed contempt for — should be examined. It is rather obvious to say that Turkey’s actions point to a complete abandonment of “zero problems.” After all, NATO could never have tolerated non-alignment in so strategic an ally. The stakes are far, far higher.
In choosing to crusade as NATO’s shield maidens, Erdogan et al. have succeeded in eroding the confidence they had gained for themselves, not only as regional leaders of the Muslim East but also as national leaders of Turkey. Presiding over one of the greatest economic booms in Turkish history, the sparkle and lucre of the “Turkish model” has turned out to be fools’ gold — the idea that Muslims could be “modern” too, that is, they could preside over a militarized nation state bent on serving its citizens’ interests at the expense of a region, and the interests of a tiny corporate elite at the expense of its citizens. For all his street-fighter scrappiness, Erdogan simply lacked the courage to set a new direction for Turkey out of NATO’s jurisdiction.
The choice sold away a bright future for short-term gain — it would not be surprising if behind the scenes, Pentagon Inc. has promised Erdogan the long-elusive European Union membership that Turkey has lusted after for the better part of a decade. In exchange, Turkey simply has to bring down Syria and help NATO engineer a “Persian Spring.” The street in Muslim countries is rather politically savvy, and Erdogan’s whiplash turn away from integration with the broader Muslim East is rather conspicuous. In Turkey, fatigue for the AKP has set in, as Erdogan’s Syrian expedition grows increasingly unpopular among Turkish citizens. “What do we have to do with Syria?” asked an Istanbul bookseller in a New York Times article. “The prime minister and his wife used to go there for tea and coffee.”
“Turkey’s Syria policy has failed,” wrote Dogan Heper, a columnist for the newspaper Milliyet. “It has turned our neighbors into enemies. We have been left alone in the world.” Turkey’s estrangement from Russia, China and Iran, has had as much of an economic effect as a politico-cultural one — evaporating trade with the three countries accounted for one of the key motors of its economic boom. In the wake of the protests that convulsed the Muslim world about the film denigrating the Prophet (pbuh), Turkey’s pro-NATO posture has for the first time set Erdogan’s government at odds with the emotions of the street.
Even as Turkey’s imperial dreams of restoring Ottoman glory at all costs have been exposed by the Syrian expedition, it is also unprepared for the costs of transforming into a bona fide empire. Before, its muscle-flexing was limited to military operations against the Kurds. Now, more than 300,000 Syrian refugees have already flooded into Turkey, straining public services and charitable facilities. Nor can the Turkish government denigrate the Syrian refugees as it has the Kurds, given the “humanitarian” sympathy that Erdogan has expressed for the Syrians. Even as Erdogan trumpets that the “Yemen-plan,” where President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in favor of a successor, is no longer applicable to Syria, it is gradually cornering itself as imperium presiding over an occupied, indignant country a la the United States with Iraq. Syria could well turn into Erdogan’s Vietnam, as noted by Muslim East analyst Joshua Landis.
Even as Muslim communities and countries continue to laud the “Turkish model” as a path toward development,” Erdogan’s war with Syria opens a window on the AKP’s political demons — the dreams of empire-building that uncomfortably layer over religious mandate, national chauvinism and cultural elitism. The AKP is losing its influence both nationally and internationally, easing the path for Pentagon Inc. to bring about a regime change at the right time. Meanwhile, NATO warlords can comfortably lean in their armchairs and take a smoke, having subcontracted the dirty work of killing Muslims to Muslims.