Syria Could be Turkey’s Vietnam

MK Bhadrakumar

Originally posted by MK Bhadrakumar, 15 October 2012

The recent polls have repeatedly shown that the Turkish public opinion is strongly opposed to any military intervention in Syria. The curious part is that this opinion is present even within the ruling party, AKP, despite PM Recep Erdogan’s “forward policy” toward Syria.

The prominent Islamist daily Zaman, which is identified with the AKP’s ideological guru Fethullah Gulen (living in exile in the United States), has been lately featuring articles warning Erdogan from going overboard over the Syrian situation. Zaman’s exclusive interview today with former Turkish FM Yasar Yakis becomes highly significant.

Yakis is a highly respected former diplomat with deep experience in the Middle East affairs; in fact, he could be considered as one of Turkey’s best “Arabists”, having served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria. Most important, he is an MP belonging to the AKP and he is considered close to President Abdullah Gul (who in a meaningful recent remark described the Syrian situation as a “civil war”).

Yakis’ expert opinion is that Syria could turn out to be Turkey’s “Vietnam”. He rubbishes the idea of a “safe zone” within Syria adjacent to the Turkish border because that region is Kurdish-dominated and Turkish troops will have to be stationed there right inside Syria for that zone to be kept “free”.

But, Yakis warns, Syrian Kurds will inflict a million cuts on the Turkish soldiers deployed there, who will increasingly find themselves trapped in a quagmire.

Yakis flags the danger of Syria’s fragmentation. Interestingly, he sees western intervention in Syria as unlikely. A Mitt Romney administration in the US might begin to supply arms to the Syrian rebels, but not otherwise.

His warns against “proxy wars”; these wars will be fought on the basis of the respective interests of outside powers — that is, it is entirely up to Turkey to coolly weigh where its interests would lie even if it were to act in concert with the US. Yakis’ interview is here.

Ambassador MK Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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