TUR­KEY’S BEST BET IN SYRIA IS TO TAKE AD­VAN­TAGE OF CON­TROLLED TEN­SIONS

Joint airstrike by the U.S., France and U.K. af­ter the Syr­ian regime’s use of chem­i­cal weapons in Douma is a ticket back to the ta­ble for the U.S., French and Bri­tish lead­ers

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page - BURHANETTİN DU­RAN

U.S. FOR­EIGN pol­icy seems to aim at sus­tain­ing a cer­tain level of ten­sion to gen­er­ate change for change’s sake, which Tur­key can cap­i­tal­ize on.

In the wake of last week­end's airstrikes against regime po­si­tions, ten­sions are slowly — and tem­porar­ily — de-es­ca­lat­ing in Syria. Mem­bers of the Don­ald Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion spent the good part of the past week try­ing to defuse ten­sions that U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump fu­eled by threat­en­ing Rus­sia with smart bombs via Twit­ter. Still, it is no secret that Wash­ing­ton does not want its re­tal­ia­tory strikes against Bashar As­sad to re­sult in a di­rect con­fronta­tion with Moscow. As a mat­ter of fact, Sec­re­tary of De­fense Jim Mat­tis ex­pressed con­cern that the sit­u­a­tion could “es­ca­late out of con­trol.” Mean­while in Rus­sia, pol­i­cy­mak­ers are wor­ried that the U.S. will launch a broader mil­i­tary of­fen­sive against the Syr­ian regime. It was note­wor­thy, in this sense, that Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov warned the West against a “Libya-style ad­ven­ture” in Syria.

Af­ter Ger­many an­nounced that it would not par­take in a mil­i­tary cam­paign against As­sad, French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron — a pas­sion­ate op­po­nent of the Syr­ian regime — stressed the need to main­tain di­a­logue with Rus­sian and Bri­tish me­dia out­lets, em­pha­siz­ing the risks as­so­ci­ated with a po­ten­tial hot con­flict with Moscow.

Al­though ten­sions are de-es­ca­lat­ing in Syria, the U.S. and its al­lies are likely to con­tinue work­ing to­ward the con­tain­ment and tar­get­ing of As­sad's regime. Keep­ing in mind that sev­eral U.S. war­ships have been de­ployed to the Mediter­ranean to re­port­edly tar­get eight ad­di­tional po­si­tions, ten­sions are likely to con­tinue — al­beit with some level of con­trol.

In other words, Trump is un­likely to change his mind about pun­ish­ing As­sad, even though Wash­ing­ton seeks to ad­dress Moscow's con­cerns. Af­ter all, tak­ing a step back in the face of Rus­sia's threats would have much more se­ri­ous con­se­quences for Wash­ing­ton than los­ing face. We al­ready know that the U.S. pres­i­dent is ex­tremely ca­pa­ble at cre­at­ing crises and de-es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions only to re-es­ca­late them. His ac­tions re­gard­ing North Korea, China and Syria are im­por­tant cases in point. To make mat­ters worse, ten­sions will prob­a­bly es­ca­late again when Trump re­fuses to sign off on the Iran nu­clear deal soon.

My sense is that the U.S. presi- dent sub­scribes to a pol­icy of con­trolled ten­sion. He seems to think that shak­ing the very foun­da­tion of in­ter­na­tional or­der and mul­ti­lat­eral treaties is the best way to pro­tect Amer­i­can in­ter­ests. Trump's de­ci­sion to with­draw from and re­turn to the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, cou­pled with his trade war with China, is­sue-based rap­proche­ment with Europe and ap­proach to the Pales­tinian ques­tion, all re­flect this tac­tic. To be clear, he doesn't care about the costs of this trial-and-er­ror method as long as his sup­port­ers are happy.

I do not be­lieve that the United States, France and Britain will stop try­ing to pun­ish As­sad pri­mar­ily be­cause the cur­rent cri­sis is their ticket back to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. A group photo taken in the Turk­ish cap­i­tal Ankara ear­lier this month, which fea­tured the pres­i­dents of Tur­key, Rus­sia and Iran as the most promi­nent play­ers in Syria, sent shock waves across West­ern cap­i­tals, as the idea that the West could no longer in­flu­ence the course of the Syr­ian con­flict spread like wild­fire.

As a mat­ter of fact, po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors over­whelm­ingly ar­gued that the West could not limit Moscow's in­flu­ence in the Mediter­ranean and the Mid­dle East, just as it failed to con­tain Ira­nian ex­pan­sion­ism. At this point, the Douma chem­i­cal at­tack, which As­sad pre­sum­ably launched to teach rebel com­man­ders in Idlib a les­son, pre­sented the United States, Britain and France with a golden op­por­tu­nity to play a more promi­nent role in Syria. To be clear, it would serve Tur­key's in­ter­ests if West­ern lead­ers are pri­mar­ily fo­cused on the fate of As­sad in the post-Daesh pe­riod.

At this point, the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion have no pro­tec­tors but the Turks, who can si­mul­ta­ne­ously co­op­er­ate with the United States, Europe, Rus­sia and Iran. Tur­key can ben­e­fit from Wash­ing­ton's pol­icy of con­trolled ten­sion in two ways. First, Turks can hold more pro­duc­tive talks with the United States and make con­crete progress in their fight against the ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion PKK's Syr­ian branch, the Demo­cratic Union Party (PYD), and its armed wing, the Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG). More­over, they can re­vive the Geneva process in or­der to pro­mote po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion, which would re­sult in As­sad's re­moval from power. Ankara, there­fore, must stick to its bal­anc­ing act be­tween the two sides of ten­sions in Syria.

Chair­men of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dun­ford (L) and U.S. De­fence Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis (R) brief the me­dia af­ter U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has or­dered a joint force strike on Syria, April 13.

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