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Monday, March 28, 2011

' Re: Libya, Does Turkey's Erdoğan Have a Plan? ', The Economist asks...

after the Turkish PM's recent volte-face ( from initially opposing NATO action in Libya, to contributing modest forces tasked with  maintaining the Libyan no-fly zone and arms embargo ).

The answer...

The [Erdogan] government has put a brave face on this U-turn, insisting that it had only moved when the military operation was taken out of French hands and placed under the command of NATO, where Turkey, a key member, wields veto power.

The line is disingenuous, as other coalition members, such as Italy, had also been demanding that NATO take the lead. It seems more likely that Turkey feared being left out altogether, as it had been from the conference in Paris where the decision to attack Colonel Qaddafi's forces was agreed. Moroever, the Arab League had already voted on March 12th to support a no-fly zone, thereby giving “Muslim cover” to the operation. Above all, American arm-twisting is said to have won the day.

Libya has thrown AK’s [i.e., Erdogan's Justice and Development Party] much-vaunted Middle East policy into disarray and further strained ties with America and the EU. As Semih Idiz, a columnist for the daily Milliyet, observes, AK’s approach has been based on friendly relations with existing leaders, no matter how brutish. And although Turkey was quick to scent Mr Mubarak’s defeat, Colonel Qaddafi's future is less clear. Mr Erdoğan warns of a protracted and bloody civil war that could make Libya "a second Iraq." He has suggested that Colonel Qaddafi could yet be involved in a peaceful transition of power, which Turkey could help mediate.

Turkey’s attempts to sit on the fence may be partly explained by self-interest. Some 20,000 Turkish citizens worked in in Libya (they are now mostly repatriated). The country has around $15 billion worth of outstanding contracts which may be scrapped if the rebels prevail.

Yet an even bigger challenge is being posed by neighbouring Syria, where nationwide protests have left scores of civilians dead. Mr Erdoğan is a big friend to Syria’s strongman leader, Bashar Assad, and has urged him to ease his iron grip. Should the violence spread to Syria’s Kurdish-dominated north, thousands might cross the border into Turkey, already home to 14m or so restive Kurds. Mr Erdoğan’s pious base have been incensed by the slaughter of their fellow Sunni Muslims at the hands of Mr Assad’s forces. When it comes to Syria, sitting on the fence may not be an option.
Of a similar opinion about Turkish motivations re: Libya is retired Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar, who, in the Asia Times, writes that Saudi diplomacy played a role in adjusting Erdogan's perspective. 
Turkey has calibrated for developments on the ground creating a dynamic of their own. For example, the air strikes may fail to bring desired results in terms of Muammar Gaddafi losing control. Then what? A de facto division of Libya may ensue. This may turn out to be a long and difficult war and at some stage deployment of ground troops may become necessary. On the contrary, if Gaddafi gets ousted in the near term, who will assume power? To quote Sami Cohen, a veteran Turkish commentator wired to the establishment's thinking, "No one knows this. There is no prepared plan for it. It's just another indication of an open-ended period of uncertainty."

In sum, Turkish ambitions as a regional power - like Sarkozy's - are cruising without a compass. Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama spoke to Erdogan on Tuesday evening to ensure Turkish participation in any NATO operations. NATO officials have since revealed that Turkey will be one of the seven members of the alliance to participate in the naval operations to enforce the UN's arms embargo and that four Turkish frigates, one submarine and one reserve ship have been deployed. (Canada, Spain, UK, Greece, Italy and US contributed one frigate each so far.)

Thus, Turkey has moved into the tent, finally. Turkey has now been included in the "contact group" of NATO participating countries, which will meet in London on Tuesday to "take stock" of the implementation of resolution 1973 so far and to "take forward this work", according to a British foreign office statement.

Turkey may also have won a point by forcing France to concede that NATO be given a role in the planning and execution of the campaign. (But France has also dug in by insisting that the political leadership will lie with "contact group", which will also include representatives from the Arab League and African Union).

For all appearances, Turkey continues to ride a high horse. A columnist in the pro-government, Islamist-oriented Daily Zaman,  Abdulhamit Bilici wrote:

So, where does Turkey currently stand? Ankara is still behind the US resolution ... [But] Turkey is uneasy about the poor planning and one-sided nature of the operation. It is also upset with NATO secretary general Anders Fogh-Rasmussen's "we-decided-you-can-join-us" attitude ... It's unthinkable for a Turkish soldier to attack a Muslim country. But if it is included in the planning process properly, the Turkish military is ready to offer support in every platform, including NATO regarding non-combat issues. Let's see if the West will choose to help itself and the region by cooperating with Turkey or do the complete opposite by excluding Turkey.
However, in reality, Turkey has been compelled to rethink hard and fast. The "red line" was fast approaching and Turkey was punching beyond its weight. Faisal helped Ankara view matters from a realistic perspective. Erdogan visited Saudi Arabia over the weekend where the first signs began appearing in the Turkish rhetoric that a relentless process of rethink was commencing. 
For yet another perspective, check out  the Al-Jazeera article, 'Coalition of eager vs not so eager ', by Leila Hudson and Johann Chacko of the University of Arizona's Near Eastern Studies Department.  

The reality is that relatively few Arab governments are willing to risk their prized billion dollar air forces even in the best of times, and most would rather see the "Arab Spring" of 2011 expire entirely.

Cynical observers point out that in most Arab states, combat forces are more likely to be used for domestic "crowd control" than for riskier regional commitments.

The Egyptian Air Force (EAF) with its ideal location, large and relatively modern (US funded and trained) forces, and new revolutionary credentials could play a major role in the tactical phase of the air campaign, but its reluctance to engage reflects its unwillingness to risk any losses.

This aversion goes back to Mubarak (himself an EAF man); it should be remembered the EAF, unlike the Egyptian Army, sat out the 1991 Gulf War.

Several reports have suggested that Egyptian intelligence is facilitating the arming of Libyan rebels in cooperation with Western governments.

This apparent contradiction suggests that just like during the Egyptian revolution of 2011, the military is following a cautious hedging strategy that will allow it to jump on to the winner's bandwagon with minimum cost.

As we learned this February, the Egyptian military is quite bourgeois in its worldview, having morphed into a major stakeholder in the Egyptian economy.

Turkey is also curiously absent from events. It has perhaps the most modern and highly trained armed forces in the Middle East after Israel, and possesses the largest military in NATO after the US.

While some might suggest that the Turkish military, like the US military, is more interested in focusing its energies on ongoing conflicts in Kurdistan and Iraq, it is clear that Erdogan's ruling AKP is now firmly in charge of the military.

After Erdogan's forceful response to the flotilla incident of May 2010 Turkey was hailed as the new champion of the Arabs, and parties like Tunisia's Nahda have publicly proclaimed their intention to follow the AKP model.

Yet Erdogan's statement on Wednesday the 22nd shows that the party's Arab policy is driven not by a desire to demonstrate solidarity with suffering Arab masses, but rather by its Turkish electoral base's antipathy both to intervention in the Middle East and Israeli occupation.

While the US handover of command, and the Arab League's continuing political influence on the operation will be viewed in a positive light, the lack of direct Arab and Turkish participation constrains their influence on the actual conduct of operations and perhaps the final outcome.

This is likely to stoke historical Arab anxieties about weakness and imperialism, especially if the conflict is prolonged, or intervention is intensified. Unfortunately at least one of those conditions is likely to occur.