At a recent social function, a prominent political commentator asked a foreign expert whether Turkey was doing enough to resolve the prolonged civil war in Syria. Glancing through numerous articles that Western media outlets generously devoted to Turkey's alleged ties with (Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) ISIS terrorists and the supposed mistreatment of refugees among other things, I felt that a brief look back was called for. Personally, I believe the question was wrongly formulated. Indeed, what observers must really ask is whether Turkey could have done more to alleviate the suffering of ordinary Syrians who had the misfortune of meeting President Bashar Assad at a very bad time in his political career. Here are some actions that the Turkish government, which some pundits would like us to believe could not care less about the well-being of Syrians, has done:
In September, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government single-handedly pushed a bill to authorize the deployment of the Armed Forces to neutralize national security threats in Syria and Iraq through Parliament. Opposition parties, including the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), voted against the bill despite having called on the government to act against terrorist groups across the nation's southern border. Shortly after the vote, the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), whose representatives had also sought to turn down the bill, asked the government to introduce another bill to allow the authorities to specifically target ISIS forces. Had it been for the opposition parties, there would not even have been a debate about Turkey's military involvement in Syria since their leaders have long picked cheap anti-war and anti-imperialism rhetoric over responsible policy making. Not to mention that the HDP, with some vocal support from the CHP, had no problem asking their supporters to take to the streets, where organize riots claimed nearly 40 lives and automobiles, public buses, residential buildings and small shops were set ablaze.
Around the same time, the government allowed some 200,000 Syrian Kurds from Kobani, a Syrian border town besieged by ISIS, into Turkey to help keep civilian casualties at a minimum and allow the international coalition, to which Turkish officials remain committed, to launch airstrikes against ISIS operatives on the ground. Furthermore, Turkish authorities brokered talks between the Kurdish Democratic People's Party (PYD) in northern Syria and the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to permit peshmerga forces to cross into Kobani to fight off ISIS terrorists. According to multiple media outlets, the number of peshmerga troops contributing to the anti-ISIS effort has been drastically reduced due to objections from ... surprise, surprise, the Kurdish leaders in Kobani. Again, not to mention that the ratio between Turkey's total humanitarian assistance to displaced Syrians and what the international community generously chipped in is over 18 to 1. Nor the fact that Turkey allocated over $4.65 billion to its humanitarian relief efforts, making it the "most generous" country on the planet, since the Assad regime decided to crack down on peaceful opposition groups in 2011.
Armchair generals and opinionated journalists no doubt feel for the suffering of displaced Syrians, but it is much easier to discuss these matters from a comfortable distance. Considering that, even from the safety of their homes in Washington or London, they are unwilling to deploy their troops to fight ISIS, it is remarkable to see critics of Turkish foreign policy, at home and abroad, blaming the AK Party government for refusing to fight a proxy war in the Middle East. Those who question the reasoning behind Turkey's foreign policy and military strategy today must seriously and honestly ask themselves where they were when the Syrian regime shot down a Turkish jet over the Mediterranean or what exactly they did, except for protesting on Facebook and getting retweets on Twitter, in response to the chemical attack in Ghouta.