ISTANBUL - In last week’s Parliamentary address, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan set out the framework for how to respond to the most recent Syrian crisis of the downed Turkish fighter jet.

Despite using strong language, Erdogan did not signal any immediate military retaliation. Instead, the short-term priority rests on the diplomatic front. Indeed, the most striking part of the address were his middle and long term view on Syria, which we can call Erdogan’s “nip it in the bud ” approach.

Erdogan has openly defined the Bashar al-Assad administration as a “clear and present threat,” and he did not hide the fact that he is ultimately focused on toppling and destroying this regime. 

The words: “All kinds of support the Syrian people need will be provided until they are saved from the dictator and his gang,” are the most extreme words the Turkish Prime Minister has uttered against Assad to date. 

The “support” mentioned could refer to arming the opposition, providing financial aid, and logistical support for foreign intelligence elements to infiltrate Syria.

Reports that Turkey was sending arms to aid the Syrian opposition were categorically denied in Ankara, but that denial has lost credence since Erdogan’s parliamentary address last Tuesday.

In fact, Erdogan’s words can be regarded as confirmation of reports published in The New York Times and the Guardian last week that Turkey was aiding CIA activities at the Syrian border, as well as helping to finance the delivery of arms to the opposition, alongside Saudi Arabia and Qatar. 

Rules of engagement 

The Prime Minister clearly does not feel the need to hide the fact that he has taken sides in the Syrian civil war, and that he is an intervening party. His stance demonstrates an attitude similar to that of former President Turgut Ozal, when he dropped Saddam Hussein completely, all at once. 

The tone adopted in Erdogan’s speech also implies that when the time comes: “something will be done.” This will likely come in the form of a military response in Syria.

In the meantime it seems Turkey will wait for Syria to make a mistake, or do something else to provoke such an attack. This is implied through his phrase, “The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have changed their rules of engagement toward Syria.” 

The most problematic part of the speech was Erdogan’s slamming of the Turkish press, including unacceptably severe and unjust statements referring to journalists as “sold pens” and  “not sons of this country.” If Turkey is a democracy, then the government’s foreign policy should be open to criticism. 

The Prime Minister himself admitted that Assad “did not live up to his promises,” and, indeed, had misled him. Therefore, however good-willed he may be, the policy Erdogan followed did not bring any results. In this case, are those, who at the time criticized Erdogan for getting so close to Assad, now mistaken? Are they suddenly not sons of the country?

If Turkey has chosen democracy as its path, there is nothing more natural than to question the government’s foreign policy and the crisis policies it follows. In democracies, leaders tolerate journalists who use their right to criticize; they don’t go pointing fingers at them.

This should be one of the aspects that differentiate Turkey from other regimes in the region. Regims like Bashar al-Assad’s.

Read the original article in Turkish.

Photo - FreedomHouse2