The Russian-U.S. agreement that saw Syria’s hurried accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention left Turkey’s Syria calculus in considerable disarray. In a span of less than a few weeks, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his minister of foreign affairs, Ahmet Davutoğlu, witnessed the prospects of their aspiration to see the end of the Assad regime rise and then simply disappear, at least for the foreseeable future.
The events of August 21 in the outskirts of Damascus which, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment, caused the death of more than 1,400 people, including young children, sparked the prospects of a military intervention by the United States. Erdoğan was quick in expressing his support for such an eventuality without clarifying the form of Turkey’s involvement. In an effort to galvanize support, he loudly accused the international community and particularly the West of being insensitive to the sufferings of civilians. He fired accusations at the U.S. and the West, ranging from alleging an absence of basic ethics to accusing them of outright Islamophobia for failing to respond to the sufferings of the Muslims in Syria. He called for nothing less than an intervention “like [the 1999 NATO intervention] in Kosovo” to bring an end to Assad’s regime and hence to the suffering of the Syrian people. His and his foreign minister’s calls fell on deaf ears, leaving Turkey out of step with the rest of international community—with the exception of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. How did Turkey become so isolated, and where does this leave Turkey’s Syria calculus?
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The objective of this kind of [safe zones] project may be described as fundamentally humanitarian, but the reality is that any number of parties, starting with the Assad regime and the Islamic State, are going to see it as a threat, and that’s going to make it a target instead of a safe place.