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America, Syria, and the World: Turkey

Author: Steven A. Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
September 13, 2013
Wall Street Journal

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The Syrian civil war is the greatest strategic challenge for Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party since it came to power in November 2002. Turkey's Syria policy has evolved from encouraging Mr. Assad to undertake reforms to pushing for the overthrow of the Syrian regime.

The Turks deserve credit for the way they have handled the flow of refugees across their border and for their effort to persuade the international community to respond more forcefully to the civil war. But Turkish policy has been long on rhetoric and short on action. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to convince the U.S. and other Western powers to intervene, but only with U.N., NATO and Arab League approval. Now Turkey seems to have dropped those preconditions and signaled its support for an American strike.

The diplomatic process that has unfolded over the past week has put the Turks in a difficult position. President Abdullah Gül praised the idea of placing Syria's chemical weapons under international control but bemoaned the Russian proposal because it fails to address the underlying civil war. The Turks can see what is coming, and they don't like it: an agreement between Washington and Moscow that relieves pressure on Mr. Assad, allowing him to conduct the war without the threat of U.S. intervention. This would leave the Turks to contend with more refugees and more violence on its doorstep. But there is little Turkey can do to alter these circumstances. Left with few options, Ankara will default to what it has already been doing: supporting factions within the Syrian opposition, providing refugee relief and advocating for international intervention to bring the conflict to an end.

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