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Image: Reuters/K. Ozer

Erdogan has made up his mind

Baha Güngör / nh
September 24, 2014

Turkey's head of state finally gave up his undecided course towards IS. Military action is Erdogan's attempt to cut his losses, but it won't help Turkey reclaim its role as a regional power, says DW’s Baha Güngör.


The Turkish government is not to be envied: On the one hand, a self-proclaimed religious group, which is in actual fact the most brutal group of the present time, has been terrorizing large areas in two neighboring states in close proximity to Turkey's borders. Hundreds of thousands of people from both Iraq and Syria have seen no other option than to seek refuge in Turkey - to save their lives. At the same time, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has in the past not hesitated to use force against opponents at home, has been trying to treat the "Islamic State" (IS) with kid gloves, for fear of antagonizing them.

Forty-nine Turkish citizens who were taken hostage by the IS terrorist militia at Turkey's consulate general in Mosul have been released. The price Turkey paid is yet unknown. It does seem odd that the jihadists would kill Western hostages in a horrifyingly brutal way on the one hand, while refraining from using violence against Turkish hostages on the other. Could it have been the reward for Turkey's support - of an as yet unknown scale - of religiously fanatic parts of the Syrian opposition in the fight against the regime in Damascus?

07.08.2014 DW Quadriga Studiogast Baha Güngör
Baha Güngör is head of DW's Turkish service

The fact is that it's now become much easier for Erdogan to publicly approve of the airstrikes by his Western allies under US leadership. In several interviews, he even promised logistics support - while refraining from promising direct involvement. Turkey is hesitant not least because it's a member of NATO. The country's general staff reacted instantly to media reports claiming that US planes about to attack IS strongholds were coming from Turkey. Army representatives said no armed US jets and no armed drones would receive permission to enter Turkish airspace, and that that was particularly true for the US military base of Incirlik on the Mediterranean Sea.

Erdogan has to show his true colors

But if Erdogan has indeed left his indecisive course, he now has to show his true colors and get ready for direct military support. The reason is simple: No other Western country is dealing with a graver refugee problem than Turkey. The number of refugees from Iraq and now from Syria is approaching 2 million. Turkish citizens have been intensifying protests against the refugee crisis. Changing the situation without using brute force against the "Islamic State" seems impossible.

Ankara's misguided foreign policy is now taking its toll. During the revolutions in Arab countries, Turkey stood out with its disoriented policy. When civil war broke out in Syria, Erdogan quickly sided with the opponents of Bashar al-Assad, expecting the dictator's imminent overthrow. Now Erdogan has to watch as the West openly considers involving Damascus and Baghdad in the fight against IS terrorists. In addition, Turkey also has to grudgingly accept the fact that the West is delivering weapons to Kurds in neighboring states so they can protect themselves against IS militia.

No, the Turkish government is not to be envied at all. It has maneuvered itself into a maze with mistakes made in the foreign policy realm. It needs its Western allies to find the way out, and it has to accept their decisions.

More indecisiveness in dealing with neighbors as well as with terrorists could see Turkey end up facing a bill it would never be able to pay. The country has long lost its role as a regional power in the Middle East - and will not get it back anytime soon.

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