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Poll Shows Weak Support For Turkey’s Syria Policies

A recent poll shows that Turkey’s interventionist policies have little domestic support and that Turkey remains wary of outside alliances, writes Kadri Gursel.
Syrian refugees sit in a tent at a refugee camp in the town of Nizip in Gaziantep province, southeast Turkey, February 11, 2013. REUTERS/Umit Bektas (TURKEY - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY IMMIGRATION TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR3DNGY

In Turkey, it has been widely assumed that the new Turkish foreign policy managed by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has been a major source of popularity and support for the AKP rule and for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But that hasn't been so for a while now.

Foreign policy is no longer a field from which the AKP government was reaping sympathy beyond its own constituency. The AKP is now having problems convincing its own constituency of the validity of its foreign policy, and an important segment of this finds it unsuccessful.

No doubt, the major cause of this decline is AKP‘s extreme and interventionist policy in Syria that aims to topple the Baath regime.

The more the flaws emerge of this wrong policy that far exceeds Turkey's military, political and intellectual capacities, more the support for it wanes, and that in turn further widens the capacity deficit.

It is widely agreed that public-opinion support constitutes a major element of the foreign-policy capability of electoral regimes. This creates the vicious circle of AKP foreign policy's downward spiral.

Kadir Has University of Istanbul conducted a poll in 26 Turkish cities with 1,000 persons between Dec. 26, 2012 and Jan. 6, 2013. The most striking finding was that 43.5% of the respondents chose Turkey’s “remaining neutral, not interfering in any manner” as the most appropriate option in Syria’s internal strife.

But today, the Turkish government is providing opposition forces in Syria with all kinds of support, short of declaring war on Damascus.

Only 11.4% of the respondents approved the option for Turkey to “support opposition forces” — in other words, exactly what it is doing now.

Other options the Turkish people chose for the clashes in Syria were as follows:

  • 9.9%  Turkey should only help the refugees
  • 9.4%  Turkey should assist if there is international military intervention
  • 6.3%  Turkey should support international sanctions against the Assad regime
  • 3.4%  Turkey should unilaterally intervene

This table becomes more meaningful when considering replies to the question, “What are the conditions that would require Turkey to militarily intervene in Syria?’’

The majority of respondents, 79%, responded that only the “existence of a direct threat against Turkey” would justify military intervention in Syria. Other reasons for intervention included:

  • 42.6%  if the regime massacres its own people
  • 40.9%  if there is an international intervention in Syria
  • 39.9%  if the clashes spread to other regions
  • 34.7%  if there is massive refugee flow to Turkey

As can be seen, none of these other reasons were supported by a majority.

During last spring and summer, Turkish officials were saying that if there should a massive wave of refugees to Turkey, then the creation a buffer zone in Syria could be on the agenda. Here, “buffer zone” actually meant a military intervention. It is important to note that a majority of 65.3% don’t believe that even a massive refugee wave gives Turkey the right to militarily intervene, which Turkish foreign-policy authorities llisted as a reason for military intervention.

Respondents were asked when would they approve of "intervention in Syria by international forces," and responded:

  • 17.5%  to change the Assad regime
  • 11.4%  to protect the Syrians from massacres by the Assad regime
  • 36.5%  there should be no international intervention under any condition

Overall, the research determined that the number of people seeing Turkey’s Middle East policy as successful is declining.

In 2011, 37.7% of poll respondents found the Middle East policy successful. In 2012, this figure was down to 35.4%.

Those who said "not successful" were 42.6%, compare to 44% in 2011. There was an increase in who said “not interested," with 18.3% in 2011 and 22% in 2012. Those who find Turkey’s Syria policy generally unsuccessful make up 46%, and those who find it successful, 33.2%.

Let’s remember that the AKP received 50% of the votes in the June 2011 elections. According to the polls, if we had elections now, the AKP would receive 48% of the votes.

Of the respondents, 38.2% said they found the AKP's foreign policy "not successful," while 34.7% found it "successful." Those who said “Neither successful nor not successful” were 27.1%.

An interesting trend gaining traction every year is the wish to act unilaterally, without allying with any other other country.

When respondents were asked, "Which country Turkey should cooperate closest with in foreign policy?,” 46% said “it should act by itself.” This group made up 44% in 2011, and 25.5% in 2010.

The only positive chage was in the wish to cooperate with the US. This figure was 12.9% this year, up from 9.9% in 2011.

There was also an increase in those thinking of the US as an ally of Tyurkey, at 26.5% in 2012, 25% in 2011 and 9.6% in 2010. Although the US is seen as the second-biggest threat to Tyrkey after Israel, this perception has declined. Those who said the “US is a threat” comprised 52.8%, down from 58.4% in 2011.

This change could be the outcome of the US now being seen as a regressing power in the world and in the Middle East, as well as a positive perception by the public of the cooperation between the two counties, especially in recent security affairs.

To sum up, the survey by Kadir Has University has illustrated that the mindset of “A Turk has no other friend than a Turk," which prevails in Turkish political culture, is still very much valid.

Kadri Gürsel is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse and has written a column for the Turkish daily Milliyet since 2007. He focuses primarily on Turkish foreign policy, international affairs and Turkey’s Kurdish question, as well as Turkey’s evolving political Islam.

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