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Taşpınar prods Turkey

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What follows is today’s column by Ömer Taşpınar, senior fellow at Washington D.C.’s Brookings Institution. It is, in essence, a childish jab at Turkish indecision regarding Syria.

Does this give us insight into Washington’s own [indecisive] position on Syria?

Time for Turkey to match words with deeds
Ömer Taşpınar; Today’s Zaman; Feb. 12, 2012

There comes a time in the life of a regional power when action on moral grounds becomes inevitable.

This is usually the time when deeds need to match words. This moment is usually when there is not much left to say. The human suffering on the ground speaks for itself. In such times, there emerges a consensus among democratic countries with informed public opinions. They want to see action and justice instead of more of a diplomatic stalemate. As a regional power that wants to be taken seriously, Turkey is fast approaching this moment in the Syrian crisis. All eyes are on Turkey because it is seen as the actor with the greatest capacity to act.

In a sense, Turkey is becoming the victim of its own success. When Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu repeatedly argued that his country is a central, key player that should lead in the effort to find “regional solutions to regional problems,” Washington listened and took him seriously. Perhaps more importantly, the Obama administration believed Davutoğlu and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. So when this opportunity to lead and to take action came with the crisis in Syria, Washington was more than willing to let Turkey do what Davutoğlu claimed his country was capable of.

The Syrian crisis became a litmus test for Turkish influence and regional credibility in the eyes of an American administration that wished to “lead from behind” as it did in Libya. In Libya, France and Britain took the lead to avoid a slaughter and massacre in Benghazi. Now a slaughter and massacre is happening in the Syrian city of Homs. Eight hundred people were killed in the last 10 days. The death toll has reached 6,000 since the beginning of the uprising. Many in Washington would love to see Turkey take the lead in Syria the way France and Britain did in Libya. No wonder the question “What is Turkey’s Syria strategy?” is now hotly debated in Washington policy circles. No one has a clear answer to that question.

Given the high hopes attached to Turkey’s ability to act, it is with some disappointment that American and European policy makers are now finding out that there is not much of a Turkish appetite to act. In fact, there is not even much of an appetite in Turkey to take the lead in Syria. This is why when asked what the Turkish strategy is, the Turkish answer seems to be to echo back the same question: What is the American strategy? What is clear is that the “regional” superpower, Turkey, doesn’t want to become a superpower that outsources work on its problems. This is also why the best Turkey can come up with now is the idea of an international conference. But to what end? To see once again that there is no consensus among Western democracies and authoritarian regimes — such as China, Iran and Russia — about what to do and what to say about Syria. In any case, the time for more words is coming to an end. We are fast approaching the time to take action.

Cynics will say that we should not underestimate the ability of regional and global superpowers to remain idle as mass slaughters take place. Yes, 6,000 people were killed in Syria. But what about Rwanda, where everyday 6,000 were slaughtered? A total of 800,000 were killed in the Rwandan genocide and today no one even remembers what happened. Cynics will also ask why it would be in Turkey’s national interest to act alone in Syria. Why should Turkey take the lead when America appears so reluctant to do so itself? To be sure, there are many logical factors explaining Turkey’s prudence. They range from Turkey’s Kurdish problem to a fear of the unknown once the Assad regime is gone. But the sad reality of Syria is that a peaceful transition is no longer in the cards. We are fast approaching the time for action, whether Turkey likes it or not. But Turkey has a choice. It can live up to its words by taking the lead or it can watch from the sidelines the emergence of a NATO “coalition of the willing” for military action. The time for more international conferences has passed. It is time for Turkey to live up to its words with deeds. Ankara can do so by reminding itself that it is a member of NATO, too.

Written by M. James

February 12, 2012 at 10:16 pm