The U.S. is still the world’s leading super-power by nearly every measurement: GDP, defense spending, and diplomatic influence. But, the U.S. has up until now refused to take decisive action on the crisis in Syria because of America's already stretched resources and the high-risk associated with another intervention in the Middle East. Nevertheless, the U.S. must take a more central and leading role in helping to find a peaceful resolution in Syria or risk having the outcome further disturb America's power balance in the region. If this dynamic is not fully realized, Turkey will grab a majority share of the regional power hegemony instead.
Here are three examples of Turkey becoming the central power broker in the region, over the U.S.:
1. The second ‘Friends of Syria’ conference, being initiated by the Turkish Government and hosted in Istanbul on April 1st, aimed at the al-Assad regime in an attempt to alleviate the military crackdown.
2. Syria appearing to renew support and re-arm the Terrorist organization, the Kurdish Workers Party or PKK in Turkey as retaliation towards the Turkish government’s calls for Bashar al-Assad to step down.
3. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu stating that “A joint action plan should be implemented” and calling on the international community to “react to the ‘agony’ in Syria with a common voice.”
Admittedly Turkey is a strong ally to the U.S. in three major capacities: an economic partner, a defense technology partner, as well as a close NATO ally. But these recent actions are not on behalf of any of these alliances, tacit or expressed. Unlike Libya where we were able to take command by announcing beforehand we could lead from behind, here we have not done so. What will arise from this will probably be a scrambled attempt to try and retroactively insert this same line, when there currently and clearly exists no such sentiment or intent.
These emerging and assertive roles are a smart move for Turkey in the stage of regional politics, but at the cost of American influence in the region. A partial power vacuum in the region has now emerged, with Syria as its nucleus. Russia (and China to a lesser extent) has clearly staked their ground. Now Turkey has positioned itself to make a play for the rest of what is available. The geographical border between Turkey and Syria is over 500 miles long, easily dwarfing (by 2x times) any of the other eight common borders Turkey shares with other countries. The diplomatic relationship between Turkey and Syria has been long and arduous due to lasting border disputes stemming back from the days of the Ottoman Empire. Because of the inaction on the part of the U.S., making special note that this is referring to not just in a militaristic capacity, we are complacently retreating on this ground we have earned.
Cause for immediate alarm is not yet present, but the attitudes and sentiments in Ankara have been shifting. Turkey's collapsing and nearly demolished relationship with Israel has created a semi-awkward situation as a result of the U.S.'s undying and unwavering support of the nation they are now at odds with. What we do or choose not to do in these coming weeks will define us in the decades to come (see my related article here). Because if a fracture between Ankara and Washington D.C. emerges, we will be able to trace it back to this moment. Yes, the relationship between Turkey and the U.S. is easily now the strongest it has ever been. And No, this is not by any means an act of Turkish aggression. But the diplomatic future remains uncertain and interests among allies are known to drift apart over time.
The U.S. needs preemptively reassure Turkey by actively pressuring Damascus with implementing greater, stricter sanctions, like the EU recently did, and start to immediately send humanitarian aid into the region. Maybe then we can bring help to those who are suffering at the hands of their own government, whilst we wait on the gridlocked UN. With Russia’s policy shift to support Kofi Annan’s recommendation for a ceasefire and the allowing of foreign relief aid into Syria, the situation is progressing. The cessation of the conflict is still of the utmost importance.
(UPDATE: Since this article was written, President Obama and Turkish PM Erdo?an have discussed sending "non-lethal" aid to the Syrian opposition. See the CNN Article Here)
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