Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in the middle of the most complicated region on the planet. Throughout the western media world you can see on virtually every website the question: “Why is Turkey Holding Back in the Fight Against ISIS?” Excellent question. It would be very easy to just categorize leaders as simply “good” or “bad”, however most informed clear thinking people understand that the issue is much more complicated than that. Sure there are some inherently evil leaders, but most have pressures on them that most people cannot see and this is what shapes their thinking and actions. Understanding those pressures is much more beneficial than good/bad labels.
For example: the UAE has a beautifully developed country, man made islands and 7 star hotels make it the “go to” place for singers and hollywood stars. So what’s the catch? Well, the Iranians have a long standing beef with the UAE and the only thing really stopping Iranian aggression from spilling into the pristine white flowing garmented laps of the UAE is Abu Dhabi’s cozy US relationship. The UAE’s over stuffed bank accounts, award winning golf courses, and sky scrapers will not protect them from an invading Iranian force and they know it. Iran would sit on the thrones of Abu Dhabi and Dubai within 2 weeks after a souring of US relations. What about Jordan? The Jordanians know that their Israeli neighbors salivate at an opportunity to spread their zionist movement through the tiny Hashimite Kingdom. The Saudi’s know which side of the bread their butter goes as well. Having oil is nice. Very nice. However not having the guns and committed troops to intimidate and ward off powerful enemies means that you need to make sure that you have a government of people who recognize the art of deal making. All of these realities is what shapes the seemingly weak and subservient leaders of Muslim lands today. Some of these regimes are rich beyond imagining and yet they know that those riches can become someone else’s riches if they step out of line. Their politics reflect this reality as well.
At any rate, Erdogan also has his pressures to deal with. On one side you have the ISIS movement that is literally a stone’s throw across his border. On the other side you have Bashar Assad and his regime whom are hoping for any possible calamity to visit Turkey as a payback for it’s assistance to the rebel’s. On yet another other side, you’ve got the west and they’re incessant demands that Turkey fight on their behalf yet at Turkey’s expense. Nice deal. However through all of these wants and desires Erdogan has been able to show something that most leaders have not been able to do thus far: courage and self determination. This is not to be misunderstood as an endorsement of all of Turkey’s policies, however it is very interesting to see a leader who has some principals and sticks by them.
The newly elected Turkish President and former prime minister asked in an address earlier this month why the international community has totally overlooked the other terrorist organizations in the region and focused strictly on ISIS. He stated that he believes this is war on Islam. He concluded that it is because of ISIS’s connection to Islam that made it a target and not because attacking them was the “right thing to do” as many politicians would have you believe. He didn’t mean that ISIS is Islamic itself however it’s wrapping itself in an Islamic flag makes it a huge target while others are free to continue their killing sprees without risk of interruption. That’s the stark reality, how can anyone justify a coalition against ISIS while totally overlooking the hundreds of thousands of Syrians massacred by it’s own government.
Adding weight to Erdogan’s method of thinking is the case of Yemen’s former leader Ali Abdullah Saleh. Aljazeera is reporting that the UN is preparing sanctions on five prominent Yemenis including the former president for undermining Yemen’s Democratic transition. Amazingly, there was absolutely no UN sanctions on current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi and he not only staged a coup, but also sent in his security forces to gun down protestors who supported Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi. What is the difference between the two former leaders Ali Saleh and Mohammed Morsi? Mohammed Morsi was a supporter of Islam, Ali Saleh in his decades old reign in power clearly was not. Therefore sanctions are applied to Saleh for messing with the democratic process in Yemen, but Sisi, who not only messed with the democratic process but turned it upside down…well he just got told “don’t do it again!” and that was pretty much it.
President Erdogan made crystal clear his position to journalists when he said: “Turkey has submitted four requests related to what is happening in Syria to the international coalition led by the US against the Islamic State (ISIS): we asked for announcing a no-fly zone, establishing a safe zone, training the Syrians and providing them with weapons and launching an operation against the Syrian regime itself. Without achieving these demands, we can not be involved in any operations.”
Had all of the regional countries whom are participating in the alliance made clear a similar demand then that could have been the turning point Syrians have been praying for towards the end of this nearly 4 year conflict. Where are the regional leaders with a sense of integrity, leadership, and enough genuine love for the Syrian people to hinge their participation to these four noble goals? The people of the region are sorely in need of principled leadership.