Last Updated: Thu Sep 06, 2012 07:10 am (KSA) 04:10 am (GMT)

U.S. inaction in Syria has a cost

Suat Kiniklioglu

Last week I heard a Washington insider pointing out that there are “no votes for Syria,” indicating that there are no domestic political gains to be made from a more robust Syria policy by the United States. He was probably right. As we all know by now, apart from senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, there are few who raise the issue in the U.S. capital. Fully involved in the presidential race, the U.S. political class is busy and could not care less about what is happening in Syria.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issues tough statements from time to time; Ambassador Susan E. Rice projects sensitivity through her hyper-active twitter account; and when there is a need Gen. David Howell Petraeus visits us every six months or so to demonstrate that the U.S. is on the ball. In reality though, if there is any U.S. action in Syria, it will be next year, namely once the presidential election is over. The region is going through a historic period, but we are all expected to behave according to the U.S. presidential calendar.

There is one problem: The events on the ground are not motivated or impacted by the presidential calendar in the United States. Just as the Israelis are told to wait until after November to bomb Iran, so are we told to be patient for a buffer zone or no-fly zone in Syria. Life is ordered to wait for the outcome of what has been one of the dullest presidential campaigns I have ever seen. Hundreds killed on a daily basis seem to have no meaning in the U.S. political context.

Syria has the misfortune of bad timing. International powers that recently took military action in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan have little stomach for another military conflict, and Western populations are weary of armed conflict. There is a significant U.S. opinion that the U.S. cannot fix the problems of the world. Unlike in Libya, the Europeans are not pressing the U.S. to take action. It is only Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar that urge Washington to be more forthcoming.

That does not seem to cut it. The problem is Ankara is becoming increasingly impatient. We now have more than 80,000 refugees in our territory. Order in the camps is precarious, and our Syria policy is under heavy domestic political fire. Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terror -- supported by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- is claiming the lives of Turkish citizens on a daily basis.

Pressure is building up on the government to act boldly. Turkey is frustrated with the position it now finds itself in. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s plea to seek a solution to the refugee crisis has fallen on deaf ears. Ankara wants more U.S. and/or NATO support against the PKK and Assad.

In the absence of the U.S. coming forward, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey are trying to coordinate a negotiated solution to the Syrian crisis. If the plan gains traction the U.S. should not blame anyone for not consulting with it properly. Anyone who has a slight understanding of Middle East politics knows that Syria is a critical country in the Middle Eastern context. Libya was a sideshow in comparison to what change in Syria means for the region. The U.S. needs to respond to Turkish grievances emanating from the Syrian crisis.

U.S. allies Turkey and Jordan are increasingly overburdened by the refugee crisis and the concomitant deterioration of the security situation.

Either a regional plan will facilitate a transition or the armed struggle on the ground will force it. For the Syrian opposition to defeat the Syrian army, it will need more sophisticated weapons. Non-lethal communications equipment will not do it. Barring these two options we will watch the carnage and will probably confront an even more complicated situation next year. Also, the U.S. should not be surprised if a public outburst against U.S. inaction develops in Turkey.

What Turks see right now is that it is being left alone against Syria, Iran, the PKK and Russia’s policy on Syria. Worse, there are some who smell ill intent in all of this.

Suat Kiniklioglu is a writer at Today’s Zaman where this article was published on September 6, 2012

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