While I have relative optimism for my home city, I think we have less to look forward to on our southern and eastern borders -- at least in the short run. The situation in Syria remains extremely problematic. The recent debate in the Turkish Parliament highlighted the divisions inside this Parliament. I think Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had not seen such a polarized debate during his tenure for a very long time. In any case, his articulation about the humanitarian situation has been useful. The government’s view that Turkey could not be aligned with a regime that has committed such atrocities underlined the primary tenets of our Syria policy. The news from the border region is not encouraging. The UN-brokered Annan plan has not seemed to work although it is difficult to verify what is going on in the midst of all sorts of media manipulation. Still, the Annan plan seems to be the only diplomatic effort being made right now. Perhaps the US needs to take it more seriously. As Geoffrey Aronson has noted, “Lacking a strategic compass, Washington finds itself not leading from behind but being dragged from behind in support of the policies and agendas of others.”
On the other hand, Ankara has made it clear by now it is unlikely to act unless there is US and/or NATO support and participation in any action in Syria. This of course is turning the spotlight on Washington. As one astute observer recently noted, the whole irony is that despite Washington’s clear preference for disengaging from the region a good part of the region is still looking to Washington for moral leadership. No need to say more, but there is a need to assess for ourselves what gradual US disengagement means for Turkish national interests. We clearly had an initial advantage due to the disengagement but are now seeing more challenges emerging from this process, very much highlighted by the events in Syria.
The Iraqi leadership under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is increasingly showing signs of a nervous breakdown. Maliki’s actions are threatening the fragile balance that has been attained in Iraq. He is more and more seen as a leader who could bring about the disintegration of Iraq. His foes are becoming impatient with him. This is all happening at a time when the situation in Syria is becoming more and more precarious. Maliki must compromise with his foes and allies; otherwise he is likely to cause an irreversible disintegration of the whole region. Turkey has become a de facto protector of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and is a natural ally of the Sunnis. Despite Ankara’s nonsectarian policy approach, the Shiites’ strong sectarian strategy is pushing Turkey into an undesirable corner.
I agree with Joseph Bahout, an astute analyst of the region, when he argues that the Arab Spring/Awakening “will be a long-term sequence of protracted changes and transformations, most of which are still unpredictable. Before the dust settles, chaos will remain a structural feature in the region. Far from being a linear process, this will be a bumpy road where progress is often matched by regression.” I agree and underline that some regressions or undesirable successions should not divert the overall trend in the direction of a new Middle East region.