Does Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to Istanbul signify anything new in the context of Syria?
This visit once again confirmed that the Obama administration is not ready to give military support to the Syrian resistance. Although some options, such as no-fly zones, seem to be on the table, it will take a long time for these theoretical options to be applied on the field.
Perhaps conditions would have been different if what is happening in Aleppo had been similar to what happened in the 1982 Hama massacres, when the town was pulverized and more than 30,000 people were killed. What is going on in Aleppo and in Syria generally today is the inability of a depleted regime to fully suppress a burgeoning resistance. Today, an important part of rural Syria is in the hands of the resistance. Time is working for the resistance.
In these circumstances, the United States prefers a “wait-and-see” policy instead of military intervention. Cosmetic steps are taken in the guise of serious measures. I say “cosmetic” because had the US decided to pursue a truly serious strategy in Syria it could have come up with alternatives beyond $5.5 million worth of humanitarian assistance and communication equipment to the resistance. Joint operational planning with Ankara or ideas of military and intelligence working groups are passed onto the public as if they constitute a new strategy.
We all know that this type of Turkish-American coordination and joint work has been going on for months. The most pressing issue for Ankara and Washington is not how to assist the resistance. The real issue is what kind of Syria will emerge after Assad’s fall. Ankara’s nightmare scenario is the possibility of a Kurdish state in Syria. Washington’s fundamental fear is the chemical and biological weapons that will be in the hands of a radical, Islamist Syria. This is why the thriving role of al-Qaeda-affiliated militants is disturbing US intelligence.
All this does not mean that Ankara and Washington don’t have common interests in a post-Assad Syria. In fact, the two countries have at least three areas of common concern.
The first is an even bloodier civil war after Assad and the risk of the country being broken up.
The second is an Iran-Saudi Arabia confrontation in Syria. In the best case scenario, there will eventually be a fragile balance resembling Lebanon [with its sectarian power-sharing system]. This will lead to a military dispute and clashes between Iran and Saudi Arabia that will also draw the US and Israel into the party. But the difference compared to Lebanon — as far as the US and Israel are concerned — will be the Muslim Brotherhood and even more radical Sunni entities in Syria.
The third area of joint concern is the possibility of a bloody civil war in Syria inflaming the Sunni-Shiite conflicts in neighboring Iraq and Lebanon.
As a result of all of this, a far more challenging time awaits Ankara and Washington in the post-Assad phase.