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The Turkish Dilemma
Turkey's AUMF in the Shifting Sands of Syria and Iraq

News of the Turkish parliament’s vote yesterday to authorize military action against ISIS is splashed across the front pages of the world’s newspapers. But lost in the rush to count Turkey as a new coalition member in the fight is the nagging detail that the Turkish vote was not a vote for war. As the Carnegie Endowment’s Aron Lund points out, there is a long precedent for Turkish authorization of force followed only by inaction:

On October 2, the Turkish parliament voted to authorize Turkey’s government to order a military intervention in Syria and Iraq, if and when that becomes necessary to protect the nation.

Until now, Turkey has stayed out of the U.S.-led international coalition bombing extremists from the so-called Islamic State….Furthermore, it refuses to intervene in support of Kurdish militants in the Kobane enclave in northern Syria, even as their defenses are overrun by Islamic State forces and refugees pour across the Turkish border[…] Turkey has deployed tanks to the border area and could, if it decided to, tip the balance in the battle.[…]

But the Turkish decision is far less dramatic than it seems. While Turkey is likely to lend assistance to the U.S.-led campaign, the parliamentary vote won’t trigger any military action by itself. Much of the reporting and commentary on the vote has overlooked that this is in fact the third year in a row that Turkey’s parliament has issued an authorization for military force.

Nonetheless, the vote comes in the context of a number of about-faces from the Turks. ISIS’s siege of the town of Kobane has led PM Davutoglu to draw an apparent red line on the surrounded town, home to 150,000 Kurds, saying, “We wouldn’t want Kobane to fall. We’ll do whatever we can to prevent this from happening.”

Turkey will also hold direct talks over the next week with senior U.S. officials, including former Marine General John Allen. As we have written before, Turkey will enter these talks having already made significant strategic commitments against Bashar al-Assad, against cooperating with the PKK (which has ties to the Kurdish forces in Kobane), and against many of America’s coalition partners, particularly Egypt. But Davutoglu is right when he says of Turkey that “no other country has the capacity to affect the developments in Syria and Iraq.” At the moment that capacity is not being exercised, but the negotiations between Washington and Ankara have more potential to tip the scales in this fight than any other effort so long as the United States refuses to consider ground troops.

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