By Taha Özhan
"Once this border was wide open, as Turkey allowed rebel groups of any stripe easy access to the battlefields in Syria in an effort to topple President Bashar al-Assad. But that created fertile ground in Syria for the development of the Sunni militant group that launched a blitzkrieg in Iraq this month, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL]."
These lines were taken from a New York Times article, titled “After Opening the Way to Rebels, Turkey is a Paying Heavy Price,” penned by Ben Hubbard and Ceylan Yengisu. The article’s title repeats the worn out cliché that the Western media has been using since the beginning of the Syrian uprising. The article does not offer any serious evidence to support its bold claim. Despite the fact that it never explicitly claims Turkey created the chaos, the article concludes, “Now, with the rise of ISIL, the Turkish government is paying a steep price for the chaos it helped create.” In an effective display of journalism, the authors seek support for the conclusion they reach by way of the truckers, through sources who are neither experts on Syria nor Iraq, but who have been outspokenly critical of Turkey’s foreign policy on both. No doubt, those sources support this conclusion, and the NYT article is considered a fine example of journalism on Turkey.
No doubt, Turkey’s foreign policy on Syria and Iraq has had its share of fluctuations over the years. However, to paint Turkey as the culprit of the Syrian and Iraqi crisis undermines the gravity of the situation, to say the least. Especially the claim that Turkey was instrumental on the emergence and growth of ISIL is a claim — if it is not outright ignorant — that seems to serve a particular agenda. Just a working knowledge of geography is enough to disprove it. ISIL, which emerged in Iraq, did not need the Turkish border to get into Syria. Anyone who can read a map can see there is a 600 km border between Iraq and Syria. Furthermore, the political conditions that made ISIL possible have nothing to do with Turkey. Anyone who gives the situation serious consideration can see the emergence of organizations such as ISIL is the byproduct of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Similarly, it was the U.S. foreign policy on Syria, – the denouncement of which led two American diplomats to resign from their post - that brought about the current circumstance of the crisis in Syria. Careful evaluation of Fred Hoff’s and Robert Ford’s critique of the U.S. policy on Syria clearly shows the factors and actors that contributed to the crisis in Syria. The current chaos in Iraq and Syria can be blamed on the United States’s passive support of those who fought tooth and nail to keep the Baath regime alive, as much as it can be blamed on al-Assad.
As such, the question of what exactly Turkey did to bring about the chaos in Syria seriously needs to be attended to. An analysis - beyond the public diplomacy and intelligence manipulations that do not rely on any evidence - is needed. It is highly probable that such an analysis will state that despite minor conjectural and tactical errors, Turkey not only did not contribute to the crisis, but to a great extent it absorbed the impact of the crisis.