Bashar al-Assad: Turkey Won't Depose Syria's Ruler Without U.S. Involvement

The recent diplomatic meeting at the White House between President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan demonstrates the still-close ties between the two nations. The most important issue under discussion, as reported by USA Today, was the future roles of the United States and Turkey in the Syrian Civil War. But after the bombings in Reyhanli, which killed 50 civilians, the Turkish government is worried about war spilling over onto its soil. But once strong Turkish-American relations have started to deteriorate in the last couple years. This is mostly due to the belief that the United States is destabilizing the Middle East with its involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. With Turkey’s strategic location, it could be in America's best interest to re-establish stronger Turkish relations, but it will take more than that to help establish Turkey as a stable model in the Middle East.

We must understand Turkey’s role during this civil war and the possible implications that it could have on the country in conflict. Since the start of the war in 2011, the Turkish government has been among the most strident critics of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, but even after numerous attacks on Turkish soil on the Turkish-Syrian border, the government has failed to react. There are some obvious reasons why Turkey is urging the United States to become more active in the Syrian Civil War instead of taking initiative by itself.

First, the Turkish government has its own domestic issues as it is trying to finally stop the 30-year conflict that has been raging within its borders with the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK). The newly brokered deal between the Turkish government and the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan has resulted in a ceasefire. With the Kurdish rebels leaving for their bases in northern Iraq, the Turkish government cannot take the chance of using military force against Syria, which has its own Kurdish population. As the Turkish-Kurdish conflict comes to an overdue peace agreement, Erdogan cannot make the mistake of antagonizing branches of the Kurdistan Worker's Party operating in Syria and Iran. Any sort of miscalculation could result in the PKK using it as a reason to reignite tensions and continue a conflict that took some 40,000 lives.

Second, a Turkish-led military operation against Syria could result in its Russian and Iranian allies being drawn into the war. Iran and Russia have been the only open supporters of al-Assad's regime and continue to support the government forces throughout the conflict. If Turkey were to intervene it could (in the least) result in strained relations with these nations. Turkey cannot afford to damage relations because of its energy dependency on Iranian oil. Turkey remains one of the largest customers for Iranian oil even after U.S. and EU embargoes. Imports of Iranian crude continue in Turkey at a rate of 100,000 barrels per day, regardless of sanctions. And concerns of Russian influence in the Mediterranean are ever-present for Ergodan's Turkey as the creation of a permanent staff to run Russian fleet operations in the Mediterranean Sea is underway. The new permanent deployment is the next Russian step for safeguarding Bashar al-Assad's regime in Damascus and deterring military attacks on their mutual allies, which would put Turkey in a two-front conflict if any reprisals were delivered against the Syrian regime.

Finally, U.S. involvement is necessary for any Turkish operations against al-Assad's regime because of the domestic backlash within Turkey. Already after Saturday's car bombs that killed 50 and injured 100, protesters went to the streets to demonstrate displeasure for Erdogan's support of Syrian rebels. Turkish civilians, especially in border cities, have been left vulnerable to Syrian attacks because the Turkish government has allowed for Syrian refugees to cross the border and also turned a blind eye to rebels creating bases to train for future conflict with al-Assad's regime. But after the tragedy in Reyhanli, the Turkish people expressed their discontent with these policies by means of taking the streets. Protesters threw rocks and bottles at the police, who responded by firing tear gas canisters and high-pressure paintballs. Officers also brought out water cannons. While the crowd chanted calls for Erdogan and the government to resign, others criticized Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for traveling to the United States this week instead of coming to Reyhanli to show support. Obviously, further bloodshed on Turkish soil is something that the Turkish people are not willing to accept, especially after their own extended conflict with the PKK that took so many lives.

And even though Erdogan and his fellow Turkish politicians would like to retaliate against Syrian attacks so to maintain a reputation, such action is impossible without American intervention. Turkey is in no condition to become an U.S.-backed model state in the Middle East, as it is already fighting a two-pronged battle against civilian unrest, domestic conflict with the PKK, and strained diplomatic relations. The talks between President Obama and Prime Minister Erdogan will only go as far as American commitment goes towards resolving the Syrian civil war. 

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Almir Hodzic

Currently studying at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs with a focus on security and intelligence studies. Received his undergraduate degrees in International Relations and in History from the Pennsylvania State University. Interests include security threats, minority rights, transitional justice, and democratic progress in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Native speaker of the Serbo-Croatian language and studying Russian in college.

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