Turkey’s active engagement in trying to depose Bashar al-Assad has been the country’s worst foreign-policy blunder since its independence.
There are many countries that want to see Assad walk away. But only one, Turkey, has allowed its soil to become the base of the Syrian opposition. Along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, we also provide those fighting Assad with money and weapons. Turkey is the sole NATO country that is trying to persuade its NATO allies to intervene militarily to topple Assad.
What enabled NATO to intervene in Libya was the knowledge that a regime change in that country would not have a major effect on international balance-of-power calculations. The situation in Syria is different. There, Iran and Russia — and even China — have vital interests linked to Assad and his Baath Party. If Assad is replaced by a pro-Western regime, the US and Israel will breathe easier, but it will be a major blow to Russian and Iranian interests in the region. Syria is key to Iran’s anti-Israel campaign in the Middle East. For Iran, Syria is indispensable in maintaining relations with Hezbollah and other allies in the region. Syria is Russia’s only foothold in the Mediterranean.
Russia and Iran will allow a regime change in Syria only if their interests are assured in the new regime. If not, Syria might collapse but the war will continue for years, with or without Assad. Don’t forget that the civil war in Lebanon lasted 16 years.
What country is doing what?
The West is not keen on intervening because it is aware of what this would entail. The US, short of sending troops to the region, does not even favor declaring a no-fly zone or setting up a buffer zone for refugees in the north of the country. Washington does not want to get entangled in an indirect war with Russia and Iran and destabilize the region even further.
As for the Turkish government, habituated to the senseless policies of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, it has no such concerns. Davutoglu’s Syria policy has a unique symmetry: Turkey will lose whether Assad goes or stays.
Because we are helping the opposition, Syria and Iran will do their utmost to harm Turkey, and they will employ the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, which Turkey deems a terrorist group, to do so. Turkey’s Kurdish issue will assume a new and dangerous dimension that will threaten the government. The Kurdish movement in Northern Iraq, moving toward independence, will sooner or later expand by assimilating the Syrian Kurds.
Turkey, which has elevated Davutoglu's incompetence to a whole new level, will be in open confrontation with Syria and Iran as it blows up bridges with the Baghdad government and pursues a policy of enmity with Israel.
Turkey’s only ally for the time being along its 1,672 km-long border is the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq.
If Davutoglu doesn’t leave or get his act together, he will cause major problems for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and for Turkey. We will see.