Turkey’s Syrian Dilemma
The Syrian crisis has thrown a wrench into Turkey’s regional ambitions - as long as Assad defies the international community, the country’s foreign policy will remain paralyzed.
As the world waits to see if the UN-brokered ceasefire in Syria will hold, there are probably some Turkish officials who are privately hoping that President Bashar al-Assad fails to honor it. Now that Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has turned so resolutely against his former ally in Damascus, the nightmare scenario for Ankara would be a form of limbo in which al-Assad clings on to power for years like former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Gulf War.
In spring 2011, when Syria was first shaken by the outbreak of public demonstrations against al-Assad’s repressive rule, Erdogan went on Turkish national television to condemn the protesters. He declared that he had frequently visited the country and seen how much the Syrian people loved their president. The declaration of solidarity was based on more than just the close personal friendship that had developed between the two men. Erdogan and his Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu were convinced that they were building a zone of Turkish influence in the Middle East and that al-Assad would readily comply when they quietly advised him that the best way to defuse the unrest and remain in power was to introduce liberalizing reforms.