Since soon after the conflict began in 2011, Turkey has always been fiercely opposed to Damascus. Now opposition elements of al-Qaeda across the border may be another reason to act.
ISTANBUL – Manufacturing consent is a term first used by Walter Lippman in the 1920's in his book: “Public Opinion.” Later expanded on by noted linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, the concept refers to the ability of governments and corporations to coax people into support – or remaining indifferent – to things that they would normally have an interest in opposing.
Such manufactured consent has come to mind in recent weeks watching Turkey's approach to Syria. We see how al-Qaeda-linked organizations have become increasingly prominent as perceived significant threats across the border. This focus on al-Qaeda in both discourse and practice, poses the legitimate question of whether Ankara is paving the way for the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) to intervene in Syria, with the threat of al-Qaeda as the stated motivation.
An invitation for the TAF?
Some have noted how the National Intelligence Agency (MIT) had been on the front lines on the Syria issue, while the military has remained largely silent. But then late last month, TAF hit a convoy of the al-Qaeda connected Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
Although the military says it was simply responding to ISIS firing first across the Turkish border, the strike may be Turkey's message to the West about the stakes at play. There is also the question of the ethnic Turkmens threatened by al-Qaeda in Syria, and starting to flee to Turkey.
The most important statement on the matter came from President Abdullah Gul during his visit to Italy at the beginning of this month. He said the following on the recent developments in Syria: “We have seen this in Afghanistan. It is uncertain where these things will lead. Therefore, there is a very big difference to our perception of threat today to four or five years ago. At that time, the greatest threat for us was the struggle with the PKK (Kurdish) terrorism. Today, how many groups do we see? If we don't intervene today, maybe tomorrow we will face a force that we cannot match.”
The statement provides important clues to the mindset of Turkey's leaders, and may have been discussed at the National Security Council. But regardless, we can start to see a manufacturing of consent for the TAF to intervene to Syria.
Moreover, some even say that the target of a Turkish military intervention in Syria would not be al-Qaeda alone, but also the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) as well. Two for the price of one, alas.
Of course Turkey should be careful, even though the policy towards the Syrian crisis has been since the outset to intervene in one way or another.
What has changed and what is not?
The calculations made by Turkey when the uprisings turned into a civil war were about hastening the process to bring down the regime. This meant quickly arming the opposition, while Damascus' harsh crackdown set off a rush of refugees across the border into Turkey.
A buffer zone was later supposed to be established on Turkish territory, with a humanitarian corridor opened towards Syria. At least, that was the plan. It wouldn't come to pass, both because of the inner dynamics of Syria and because the West would not ultimately intervene as it had done in Libya. And inside Turkey, that famous "manufacturing" of public consent did not work.
Turkey has been feeling abandoned on the Syrian question, as many countries did not grant the support it wanted; the U.S. foremost. In fact, it can be said that the U.S., which has many reasons to be cautions, restrained Turkey's insistence on intervening in Syria.
Turkey changed its rules of engagement when Syria shot down a Turkish jet on June 22, 2012. A practical buffer zone was established at the Syrian side of the border, an area that later came under opposition control.
Increasingly, as border controls weakened, debate grew in Turkey about what to do. The Turkish parliament passed a memorandum at a closed session on October 4, 2012 that gave official authority to the military to cross the border when necessary.
The West's perception of Syria has changed as pro al-Qaeda groups gained power within the forces opposing the regime in Damascus. Turkey initially seemed less worried about these groups, but that has changed – thanks to both the Western attitude and a realization that they are a bona fide threat to Turkey as well.
While such a conflict would not be easy, Turkey may decide it's time to fight the fire on the other side of the border.