Turks Are From Mars, Americans Are From Venus on Syria Policy

Article Summary
US officials insist that Turkey and the US are on the same page when it comes to Syria. However, now that Turkey has outlined a plan for the humanitarian crisis in Syria, US politicians are backing off for reasons of domestic politics. Asli Aydintasbas claims that this is the first time she has observed such a dynamic in Washington.

After [Turkish] Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s 4-day visit to Washington, I turned the city upside down hoping to get a feel for [the sentiments of] American and Turkish officials, the Obama administration and Congress. This is where I got the inspiration for the title of this article.

One senior American official who took part in most of the 7-hour marathon talks with Davutoglu told me, “I can say that we are definitely on the same page.” However, this is not the feeling I had.

In a previous article, I wrote that this trip was one of many firsts for me. This is the first time in 15 years that I witnessed such warmth - a second honeymoon of sorts - between Washington and Ankara.

Like many other commentators, I too thought that Turkey would pay a high price for the rupture in Turkish-Israeli relations, and that many doors would be slammed in the faces of the [Justice and Development Party, or AKP] government.

Was I ever wrong! In reality, the situation is totally the opposite.

Because of the Arab Spring and the [NATO] missile shield [Turkey has allowed on its territory], [officials from Ankara] are indisputable stars in the US capital. Of course, this can change at any minute; but for now, this is the way it is. In days past, Turkish officials used to gloat when their 45-minute meetings [with US officials] were extended to one hour. This time around, the only thing missing in Congress and [in the offices of the American] administration was the red carpet. The two [foreign] ministers [Davutoglu and Secratary of State Hillary Clinton] sat down with their teams for hours, even though they met in Munich only last week. What did they talk about?

For the of sake of appearances, the US gave five minutes each to the issues of Cyprus, the Armenian protocols and the patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox in Istanbul.  In their head-to-head discussions, Clinton briefly mentioned the condition of the media [in Turkey] and freedom of the press [on the Anatolian peninsula]. However, the heart of the discussions dealt with Iran and Syria.

While I was examining the two sides’ contrasting points of view on the Syrian issue, the title for this article came to me. True - as the senior American official told me - both countries are “on the same page” when it comes to Bashar al-Assad’s regime’s loss of legitimacy, and the fact that he must now leave power. But, what next? This is where things got a bit complicated.

Because it is an election year; because they are tired of wars; because things are not going well in Libya and Iraq; because of the issue of a nuclear Iran; and because of a thousand and one other reasons that they don’t get tired of spelling out, the Americans do not want to get actively involved [in Syria]. They don’t want a buffer zone, or a humanitarian corridor, or to aid the Free Syrian Army. To be honest, I didn’t expect this much disengagement, but all officials I talked to repeated why certain things could not be done.

As for Turkey, Ankara has emphatically spoken out against a military intervention. However, Ankara cannot sit back and watch as scores of people are being killed [next door].

For the first time a Turkish plan is on the table, or rather “something close to a plan.” The plan envisions ratcheting up diplomatic pressure as a first step, forcing the issue of a humanitarian corridor to cities such as Homs and Hama with the involvement of the UN and the Red Cross and Red Crescent if need be. Ankara is also trying to find ways to extend material and political support to the Syrian popular movement in cooperation with the Arab League and the United Nations. Instead of saying “sorry, nothing can be done” like the Americans, Ankara is asking itself “what can we do?”

This has definitely been a visit of many firsts for me in Washington. For the first time ever there, Turkey is pressing for regional activism while it is the US that keeps coming up with “buts,” determined to stay passive under the cover of “realism.”

If you dare to ask how all of this will end, the answer will not be simple. The people of Syria are determined; they won’t retreat.  What’s more, I think that in diplomacy, the Martians will persuade the Venusians. Isn’t it that how it works  in real life?

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