Looking at the latest diplomatic attempts at a solution to the Syrian crisis, it is clear that the current mission by Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint United Nations-Arab League envoy to Syria, cannot by its very nature be to Ankara’s liking. In fact, Turkish Foreign Ministry sources have already leaked enough to the press to corroborate this.
As noted previously in this column, Ankara has come around, somewhat reluctantly, to accepting that elements of the present regime will have to be incorporated into any post-Assad transitional administration. The idea that Assad himself should be part of any settlement formula, however, remains a non-starter.
Media reports, on the other hand, are indicating that Brahimi’s current mission involves convincing the sides in Syria to accept a U.S.-Russian brokered plan, which foresees Assad remaining in power until 2014, at the head of a broad-based transitional administration, even if his mandate will not be renewed after that date.
The main point here, however, is not that this plan foresees Assad staying on until 2014, which is clearly a difficult one to swallow for the hard-line elements of the Syrian opposition that have turned the crisis in Syria into a sectarian war.
The main point is that Washington and Moscow have apparently agreed enough among themselves to the extent that they are in a position to put forward a joint settlement plan.
I have argued on a number of occasions here, that any settlement to the Syrian issue will inevitably have to have these two permanent members of the Security Council cooperating. The meeting in Dublin earlier this month between Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary of State Clinton appeared at the time to have produced little agreement on Syria. Brahimi’s current mission, however, indicates that this may not be the full story.
Although Russia and the U.S. have rival strategic interests in the Middle East, a fact that has been apparent even in the Syrian crisis, there are common fears the two powers share that will force cooperation in the end. Russia has in fact been arguing from the start that Syria will become a happy romping ground for outside jihadists of all shades, and has been justifying its support for the Assad regime to an extent on this.
Washington, on the other hand, started off from a position akin to Turkey’s, maintaining a narrative close to Ankara’s, and thus initially considered the Syrian armed opposition as a unified force resisting a ruthless dictator and fighting for democracy and human rights.
While this is undoubtedly true for some elements of the opposition, the profile of certain anti-Assad fighters clearly indicate that their final aim cannot be democracy or human rights, but a dictatorial, theocratic Sunni regime of one kind or another led by the Muslim Brotherhood.
This is obviously why Washington intervened to broaden the base of the Syrian opposition, with a view to isolating jihadist elements, whether these are Syrian-based or otherwise. The support Turkey is extending to the predominantly Sunni-led Syrian opposition, however, includes elements that would be considered unsavory by both Washington and Moscow.
More than this, however, Brahimi’s mission also shows once again that Turkey is not at the center of the diplomatic efforts aimed at solving the crisis in Syria anymore. On the contrary, it is poised in such a way that it could come in time to be seen as an obstructive force trying to prevent a settlement that is not in line with the Erdoğan government’s vision for the future Syria.
Prime Minsiter Erdoğan and Foreign Minsiter Davutoğlu must understand, however, that the future Syria is unlikely to be shaped according to their shared ideological vision, but is more likely to be based on objective factors worked out as a result of cooperation among the key powers in the Security Council.
Washington and Moscow appear to have understood this. It’s time Ankara did so as well.
(Semih Idiz is a writer for Hurriyet Daily News where this article was published on Dec. 27, 2012)