Turkey’s Syrian Gambit


It’s strange that Turkish PM Erdogan’s calls for the fall of Syria’s government have become even louder than the Saudis’. He knows a Libya-like aerial blitzkrieg is not coming, and street gangs lynching Bashar Assad is a very remote possibility. It’s far more likely that the Baathists’ worst case scenario is an Alawite stronghold around Latakia on the Mediterranean, in alliance with the PKK in the Kurdish north, preparing for an eventual, historic partition of Syria.

Russia will retain the deepwater port at Tartus, ensuring Kremlin protection, and complicating inevitable Turkish retaliation to Kurdish infiltration and espionage, most likely financed by the future former potentates of Damascus if Turkey fails to exercise restraint right now. How the following sectarian-ethnic death rattle will benefit any country, let alone Turkey, is difficult to see.

Erdogan said, “our anger is powerful”, but is his anger at Bashar al Assad so powerful that he will compromise Turkey’s political and economic stability? Make no mistake, should he come good on his threats of military intervention, the billion-dollar-a-day-turnover Istanbul Stock Exchange will go into a tailspin, immediately compromising hot money crucial for the exchange, and engineering a nosedive in the lira. On top of 10 per cent plus inflation, GDP slowdown as recession deepens in Europe, and a $70 billion current account black hole, it’s hard to see most Turks agreeing with adventures that will certainly debase the currency and dry equity markets hooked on offshore capital.

Of course Erdogan also knows economic stagnation will hurt his ruling AKP’s already deteriorating social and political standing. True, its 10-years in power— which saw it overcome the secular military-aristocracy alliance that has dominated Kemalist Turkey since its inception — established one of the most vibrant democracies in the Muslim world. But not quite.

Erdogan’s political longevity has seen him tilt more towards certain attributes of dictators the Spring is antithesis to, rather than champions of democracy cheering ‘rebels’ on Arab streets. He has become increasingly less tolerant of the press. And while journalists are still more secure in Ankara than Moscow, court appearances and jail sentences have increased, as have fines. The military too is increasingly dissatisfied, especially since the arrests of dozens of generals and admirals as part of an investigation into an alleged coup attempt.

This means the army, the merchant elite as well as the secular bureaucratic hierarchy will exploit AKP’s weaknesses as and when they come. Yet Erdogan hosts the splintered FSA, facilitates arms smuggling into Syria (along with GCC heavyweights), employs anti-aircraft batteries at the Syrian border, threatens raids on Kurdish pockets and signals imminent military intervention inside Syrian territory. Even by modest risk management standards, the gambit envisaging strengthened regional muscle while eroding internal stability is dangerous at best.

And Syria’s fate notwithstanding, the case for Turkey eventually falling foul of its western friends is not as weak as the popular press likes to imply. Remember, he bears many characteristics that have been known to set off alarm bells across the Atlantic – Islamist that upset liberals, betraying increasingly aggressive regional designs. And significantly, it was his personal confrontation with Israeli President Shimon Peres at Davos ’10, when he accused the moderator (Washington Post’s David Ignatius) of giving him less airtime, that culminated in the tragic flotilla incident sometime later. Needless to say, as his rhetoric towards Tel Aviv worsens, so too will his standing with Washington.

For Syria to prompt Turkey’s prime minister to trigger potentially grave political and economic headwinds in his own country is questionable, particularly since Ankara’s continued push for Damascus’s fall brings domestic paralysis ever closer. Look to financial markets for the trigger.

The beginning of a lira fall will be Mr Market’s first vote of no confidence in Erdogan’s policy posture, dubbed neo-Ottoman tendency in sections of the press, with good reason. And the longer he sticks to his inflexibility, the more he ensures that of all possible people concerned, the only ones coming out of near term chaos happy and satisfied are day traders poised to short the lira right through the 1.80-1.90 corridor.

Shahab Jafry is a financial and political journalist covering Mena and Pakistan. He can be reached at jafry.shahab@gmail.com

November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving
Joseph Grosso
The Enduring Tragedy: Guatemala’s Bloody Farce
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Imperial Myths: the Enduring Lie of the US’s Origin
Ralph Nader
The Joys of Solitude: a Thanksgiving!

Joseph G. Ramsey
Something to be Thankful For: Struggles, Seeds…and Surprises
Dan Glazebrook
Turkey Shoot: the Rage of the Impotent in Syria
Andrew Stewart
The Odious President Wilson
Colin Todhunter
Corporate Parasites And Economic Plunder: We Need A Genuine Green Revolution
Rajesh Makwana
Ten Billion Reasons to Demand System Change
Joyce Nelson
Turkey Moved the Border!
Richard Baum
Hillary Clinton’s Meager Proposal to Help Holders of Student Debt
Sam Husseini
A Thanksgiving Day Prayer
November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey
November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”