The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Turkish Government Seeks Parliamentary Approval to Bomb Syria

Turkey’s military bombed Syria again today, killing “several Syrian soldiers,” according to reports. The strikes were retaliation for a Syrian shell that killed a civilian family yesterday—the “the last straw,” said Turkish officials. Today the Turks are considering further action, reports Reuters:

Turkey’s government said “aggressive action” against its territory by Syria’s military had become a serious threat to its national security and sought parliamentary approval for the deployment of Turkish troops beyond its borders.

If Turkey steps up the fight against the Syrian government in the border regions, the situation could morph into a long term, contested Turkish presence. These areas are home to many Kurds, some of whom have recently been fighting in Turkey (possibly with help from Damascus). With Damascus’ authority in these areas weak, Turkey could quickly find itself unable to pacify these areas completely — and also unable to leave.

But Syria has been poking Turkey in the eye for months now, with no military response from Ankara: the shell that killed the Turkish family yesterday was one of hundreds that routinely fall on the Turkish side of the border, and in June Syria shot down a Turkish reconnaissance jet. If there were any attractive Turkish policy options, Ankara would have taken them before now.

Via Meadia isn’t thrilled with American options there, either. The longer the war drags on, especially with Gulf Arabs supporting Sunni fighters, the more powerful jihadis and radicals become in the Syrian resistance, and the more communal hatreds and desire for revenge killings create the likelihood of bloodbaths and ethnic/religious killings across the country. But military intervention a la Iraq or even Libya gets us to Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn rule: if you break it, you own it.

Lately, our sense that a regime change in Syria would weaken Iran in the region and put real pressure on the mullahs to cut a deal on the nuclear issue has led us to think about ways the United States could help the resistance shorten the war short of overt military intervention. We get the impression that some people in Washington are also thinking about this, and that the nature and level of American aid to the resistance is changing.

Good, we think, but this is a tough one. For geopolitical and humanitarian reasons, both the U.S. and Turkey want this conflict to end quickly with a new government in Damascus. The Europeans and the Gulf Arabs agree. A consensus that broad should be able to make its weight felt.

[UPDATE: The Turkish Parliament approved "cross border military action against Syria, if deemed necessary by the government."]

Published on October 4, 2012 9:21 am