Assad-Erdogan Bromance on the Rocks?

Assad Erdogan(Pictured: Syrian President Assad and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan in happier times.)

“Until recently,” reports Henri Barkey at the National Interest, the AKP, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development party, “saw its burgeoning relations with Damascus as the model success story for its improved foreign policy . . . that sought renewed political and economic engagement in the Middle East and its periphery.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Syrian Preside Bashar al-Assad “had developed a strong and close personal relationship. Erdogan appeared to take the young Bashar under his wing, and Turkey provided critical support to the embattled Assad regime when it came under pressure to remove its troops from Lebanon after the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and even at the outset of the recent uprising in Syria. The AKP developed a narrative of ‘two peoples, one state’ as the leaderships held joint cabinet meetings, eliminated visa requirements and discussed economic integration.”

Ultimately, though, the relationship has gone south.

As protests began, Turkey made clear its preference that Assad reform his regime. . . . Ankara certainly wanted to avoid the kind of bloodshed that has characterized the Libyan and Yemeni uprisings. . . . However, by initiating a major military attack on Jisr al-Shughour, Assad may have committed a strategic blunder. [Near the border, the town's] refugees. . . . with their own tales of horror that seep into the Turkish press, making it all the more difficult to ignore their plight . . . streaming into Turkey forced Erdogan’s hand. . . . Erdogan must have come to the realization that the Ba’ath regime in Syria is doomed. . . . Assad, therefore, has lost the only friend willing to stand up for him other than the regime in Tehran.

In fact, reports Borzou Daragahi in the Los Angeles Times:

Many say it was the harrowing images and horror stories of Syrian refugees that changed political calculations for Erdogan, who considers himself a world figure embracing the oppressed. . . . Erdogan, analysts say, is enraged that Assad didn’t heed his advice to curtail violence and embark on reforms, humiliated that for years he has been talking up the Syrian president to partners in the West as the man to reform Syria.

Meanwhile, much hand-wringing over how the United States should respond. At Foreign Policy’s the Middle East Channel, Marc Lynch counsels caution for a variety of reasons.

I am troubled by . . . very limited international media and an aggressive activist campaign shaping the narrative. I am not confident about any assessments of Syrian public opinion, which may be tipping against Assad in response to the rolling violence but may not be. I am skeptical of the Syrian opposition coalition which has been slowly emerging. . . . And despite the horrible bloodshed and brutality, the conditions which made intervention appropriate in Libya [sic] simply do not exist in Syria.

He advises the Obama administration to

. . . continue working carefully with regional partners to shape a broad regional response to the crisis — an approach which is paying off with Turkey, much of the Gulf, and now even the Arab League. Attempting to lure Asad [Lynch's spelling] away from Tehran made sense even a few months ago, but by this point his brutality has rendered it virtually inconceivable that he would find an open door [to the West] even if he wished to switch sides. The policies [that, among other things, the administration] adopts should be consistently designed to shape an environment in which parts of the Syrian ruling coalition see the benefit in abandoning the regime.

At Asia Times Online, via AlterNet, M.K. Bhadrakumar explains the implications for Russia.

Russia is stubbornly blocking US attempts to drum up a case for Libya-style intervention in Syria [because it] understands that a major reason for the US to push for regime change in Syria is to get the Russian naval base in that country wound up [removed. For its part] the US wants Russia to leave Syria alone for the West to tackle. But Russia knows what follows will be that the Russian naval base there would get shut down by a pro-Western successor regime . . . that succeeds Assad.

On a related issue, Bhadrakumar points out that

. . . Western reports are completely silent as to the assistance that the Syrian opposition is getting from outside. No one is interested in probing or questioning, for instance, the circumstances in which 120 Syrian security personnel could have been shot and killed in one “incident”.

Actually, among others, the Guardian is. On June 6, it reported that Syria’s

. . . state news agency, Sana, initially said 28 personnel had been killed, including in an armed ambush and at a state security post. It revised the figure up to 43, 80 and then 120 within the space of an hour without an explanation. The claims could not be independently verified. . . . The regime and state media have little credibility . . . blaming the escalating violence on armed gangs and extremist insurgents. . . . Activists and analysts suggested members of the security forces may have been killed but. . . . pointed out that armed gangs never roamed Syria before the Arab spring.