Turkey took a page from Washington’s play book on October 4, 2012. After an errant shell landed in Turkish territory and killed a family there, the Turkish legislature authorized the Turkish military to enter foreign lands. In other words, they manipulated an incident into an act of war much like the US used questionable incidents to attack northern Korea in 1950 and northern Vietnam in 1964. By passing legislation giving the Turkish military permission to enter foreign territory, Ankara declared an undeclared war on Syria. Claiming that their intention is not war, the Turkish military stepped up its alert status and prepared for war. Of course, Turkey’s status as a NATO member brought forth a barely concealed hope from Brussels that this might finally be the entry it has been looking for since the protests against the Assad regime started looking as if they might result in that regime’s fall.
I have a sister who has been a nurse working psychiatric wards for most of the past forty five years. Although she has misgivings about the use of psychotropic drugs in many instances, she has explained that they serve a useful purpose in that they create a predictable response for staff to deal with. In other words, once the drugs take effect, the medical staff can be pretty certain how the patient will behave. When nations go to war they operate under a similar thought process. In other words, once a nation is attacked, it will fight back or surrender. The root causes of the conflict will not be resolved, but the behavior of the attacked nation becomes more predictable. Of course, once the dogs of war are unleashed, anything can happen. However, like the fool who makes the same mistake over and over again, war-making nations act as if the next war they enter will end as predicted.
The case of Syria is a tough one. The Assad regime is quite authoritarian and, at this point, the word murderous also applies. However, the opposition as it currently exists does not seem to be much better. Indeed, the increasing role of radical Islamists with an apparently reactionary agenda in the rebel forces creates a scenario where both sides in this civil war are difficult, if not impossible, to support. The element of the resistance that seemed to express popular hopes for a democratic secular government in Syria seems to have disappeared in the car bombs and aerial bombardments that tend to increasingly characterize this conflict. From where I sit, it appears the US and its alliance are arming forces very similar to those it armed in Afghanistan, while the nation of Syria is looking more and more like Iraq circa 2007, when sectarian conflict split that nation into many small and dangerous combat zones. Neither aspect of this scenario is a positive.
As for NATO and Israel, it is important to remember that Syria has been one of several nations in the Middle East that Tel Aviv and DC have wanted to control for decades. Always a proponent of pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism, the Damascus government has been a constant threat to Israel’s dream of a Greater Israel and, simultaneously, to Washington’s plans to dominate the region. A co-founder of the United Arab Republic and now Tehran’s greatest ally in the Middle East, Damascus has long been on Washington’s the short list of nations needing a reformat into a friendlier state. Tel Aviv, of course, would rather just take over the whole place and make it their own as part of their dream of lebensraum for the Jewish people.
Since the protests turned bloody in Syria last winter, the western public has been shown numerous videos and images of mutilated bodies and destroyed dwellings. The historical context and the nature of the forces involved have been minimized while the human toll has been magnified. Much of this destruction was caused by the Syrian military and associated paramilitaries. As the conflict turned into civil war, much of it has also been caused by the rebel forces. The images of the former were usually provided by freelance sources that often have an agenda to push—that agenda involves the entry of foreign forces to support their side. This is where the west comes in. It is also where the recent threat of military intervention from Ankara comes in. If Turkey does enter the fray, NATO will not be far behind. As part of the alliance, Ankara knows this and counts on it. Its opposition to the Assad regime has been present since the beginning of the resistance and the resistance’s turn to military conflict has been supported and propped up every inch of the way by Ankara.
There is no easy answer to the conflict in Syria. However, turning it into a regional war is definitely not the right one.