Syria could be Turkey’s Vietnam

 The recent polls have repeatedly shown that the Turkish public opinion is strongly opposed to any military intervention in Syria.

The curious part is that this opinion is present even within the ruling party, AKP, despite PM Recep Erdogan’s “forward policy” toward Syria.

The prominent Islamist daily Zaman, which is identified with the AKP’s ideological guru Fethullah Gulen (living in exile in the United States), has been lately featuring articles warning Erdogan from going overboard over the Syrian situation... Zaman’s exclusive interview today with former Turkish FM Yasar Yakis becomes highly significant.

Yakis is a highly respected former diplomat with deep experience in the Middle East affairs; in fact, he could be considered as one of Turkey’s best “Arabists”, having served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria.

Most important, he is an MP belonging to the AKP and he is considered close to President Abdullah Gul (who in a meaningful recent remark described the Syrian situation as a “civil war”)

Yakis’ expert opinion is that Syria could turn out to be Turkey’s “Vietnam”... He rubbishes the idea of a “safe zone” within Syria adjacent to the Turkish border because that region is Kurdish-dominated and Turkish troops will have to be stationed there right inside Syria for that zone to be kept “free”.

But, Yakis warns, Syrian Kurds will inflict a million cuts on the Turkish soldiers deployed there, who will increasingly find themselves trapped in a quagmire.

Yakis flags the danger of Syria’s fragmentation. Interestingly, he sees western intervention in Syria as unlikely.

A Mitt Romney administration in the US might begin to supply arms to the Syrian rebels, but not otherwise.

His warns against “proxy wars”; these wars will be fought on the basis of the respective interests of outside powers — that is, it is entirely up to Turkey to coolly weigh where its interests would lie even if it were to act in concert with the US.


Turkey should readjust its policies in Syria, says Yakış

Regarding Turkey's foreign policy in the Middle East and particularly in Syria, Yaşar Yakış, a former minister of foreign affairs and the president of the Center for Strategic Communication (STRATİM), told Today's Zaman that “Turkey should make an adjustment to its foreign policy route just like the captain of a ship would.”

 Yakış, who is also a retired ambassador and the country's longest-serving diplomat in the Middle East, added that "you cannot insist on a policy just because it was a part of your foreign policy in the past. Each new situation requires an adjustment in foreign policy because if the captain of a ship holds the steering wheel in a constant position, the ship changes its direction due to external factors.”

“Turkey took part on the right side of history [when] a dictator was confronted by his people, but while doing this our actions went beyond the actions of other actors and destroyed all bridges with the regime.” He claims that in Syria Turkey acted with the motivation of “not repeating the mistake it made in Libya, where it expressed misgivings regarding the relevance of the NATO operation, and he went on to say: “The Western countries encouraged us, but then put on the brakes because of a fear that fundamentalists could take over in Syria. Turkey was caught off guard and remained alone, in the offside position.”

Commenting on a statement that Syria might become Turkey's Vietnam if involved, Yakış gives a conditional response, saying, “If Turkey becomes involved, it might become a Vietnam for Turkey as some argue, but if it stays away, there is no such danger,” as he strongly recommends Turkey “act with caution,” while hoping that it would not become involved at all.

Referring to internal and external encouragement for Turkey to establish a “secure zone in Syria,” Yakış warns against the possible dangers of the deployment of Turkish soldiers in a Kurdish and Arab region. “Most of the secure zone will be in the Kurdish regions of Syria. Both because of the PKK's [Kurdistan Workers' Party] existence there and the fact that the current regime is hostile to Turkey, it would be wrong for Turkish soldiers to enter Syria. If they did, it is almost impossible to come back with success.” He also directs attention to the ambiguity around the term “secure zone” as he comments that even if established, soldiers from overseas should protect it. “In Sinai, for example, there are Guatemalan soldiers,” he said, supporting his argument.

 Yakış, who served in Syria as a diplomat between 1980 and 1984, argues that Assad acted like a chess player and gave Turkey a message when “he withdrew his forces from the Kurdish populated northeast portion of Syria -- called al-Hasakah -- and left it to Kurds.” According to Yakış, “It is safe to assume that this may have contributed to the increasing PKK terrorism in Turkey lately.”

In response to a question over whether Kurds had gained a historic opportunity in the region, Yakış says, “This ideal, an independent Kurdish state, exists in the mind of every Kurd.” The former foreign minister added that “Kurds are the most well-organized group in Syria who would take advantage of the situation there if thing get worse.”

If chaos lingers, there is the risk of the dissolution of Syria, and it is not only Kurds who would have their autonomy, says Yakış.

“When the Ottomans withdrew from Syria in 1921, France established six autonomous republics: Damascus, Aleppo, Jabal Druze, Jabal Lebanon, Alexandretta and Jabal Alawite. Now, a Kurdish region has been added to that. There is a base for such separation,” he said.

However, according to Yakış, international intervention is less than likely. “The international community may never be involved in Syria. The US might or might not become involved [after the election] because Americans do not want their sons to die there.” He further comments that “what matters in terms of the US election results is whether or not the country will start providing lethal weapons to Syria or not.”Yakış, stating that countries will decide on Syria based on their own interests, warned against “proxy wars” in which the Syrian people would continue to die while others clash for power. “If Turkey and the US are more involved, it would be a proxy war not only for them, but also France, Russia and Iran would be a part of such proxy wars,” he claims.

 Based on his long diplomatic vocation, Yakış points out that “foreign policy aims are moving targets,” calling on Turkey to adapt its policies to the changing conditions, especially in Syria. According to Yakış, “the biggest difference in Syria is that now the low intensity civil war seems to be leaning towards becoming chronic.”


The Turkish Today's Zaman

Compiled: M.A. Al-Ibrahim