It is hard to even describe the sense of double-betrayal Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan must be feeling towards the man he considered a friend, Barack Obama.
First came the harsh statements from Washington early last summer criticizing Erdogan government’s ferocious response to protests against his rule. Since the Obama administration had pretty much turned a blind eye to the Turkish leader’s creeping authoritarianism over the past few years – including the imprisonment of journalists, political show trials or tax penalties on disloyal oligarchs —Washington’s support for the secular demonstrations came as a shock.
Then of course came a bigger disappointment— the administration’s about-face on Syria… Turkey had long been campaigning for a tougher international stance against the Assad regime but Ankara’s persistent lobbying for a no-fly zone and arming of the Syrian opposition met with a prolonged state of hand-wringing from Washington. With half a million refugees and a lawless southern border, Ankara sees the war in Syria as a direct national security threat. On top, there have been enough acts of aggression–such as the shooting down of a Turkish plane and three bombing incidents costing the lives of 70 Turkish citizens – to lead the Erdogan government to regard the Assad regime as more than a nuisance—an outright enemy whose survival threatened Turkey’s stability.
On at least two occasions – during Hillary Clinton’s last month as a Secretary of State, and after Erdogan’s White House rendezvous with Obama last May— the Turkish government was assured that Washington was on the verge of a momentous decision to topple the regime of Bashar Assad.
But late in August, when Bashar Assad’s army used chemical weapons against civilians, Washington finally looked poised to tackle the matter of Syria. Though suspicious that U.S. strikes would deliver a meaningful blow to the Assad regime or even “end the war,” with a sizeable NATO base in Incirlik and 900 km of a border, Ankara was willing to support military intervention in every possible way.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Erdogan, emotive as ever, has been hammering the U.N. and “the West” over this past week, warning that an agreement to stop the use of chemical weapons would not put an end to Syrian horrors. He has already expressed skepticism that the Assad regime will abide by the Russian-US deal.