The Syrian Baath Party needed a new election law to stop everything even before they started. They had enough clout to do that in parliament and over President Bashar Assad. The winds of the so-called Arab Spring would be quelled by that measure easily. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan suggested that many times in Damascus and Washington. The U.S. could have gotten that done without difficulty.
But, no! Neither the Assad regime, nor the Obama administration listened to friends and allies in Ankara. The promises to withdraw armies from Afghanistan and Iraq, and the narrative of "No more global gendarmeries in the U.S. role" that won elections for Obama did not prevent the president from moving swiftly to support the opposition forces in Syria. There were yet several thousand refugees and about 2,000 victims of the regime when Obama called for Assad's resignation. This attitude continued for more than a year; meanwhile the Obama administration did not put its money where its mouth was. When Hillary Clinton finally declared at the U.N. that they would start supporting the opposition, she could not find an opposition to her liking! She was splitting hairs; some opposition figures were too religious for her taste; some too Turkish or Arab, Sunni or Shiite.
However, the rhetoric coming from Washington was priceless: "We have red lines," the president declared, "If the regime uses chemical weapons, we are going to go in."
Well, the regime used chemical weapons but the U.S. has not gone anywhere.
Actually it did: the U.S. policy shifted from toppling Assad to defeating Daesh. This was the first disappointment for Ankara. Fighting Daesh was important as it is, but the refugees were pouring in to Turkey; human losses reached tens of thousands in Syria and no fly and safe-zones should be declared immediately. While the CIA's arm-and-train program turned into giving trucks and other non-lethal equipment, the House of Representatives voted to authorize Obama to provide support only to be used against Daesh terrorists. This was further disappointment for the Turkish government.
Meanwhile the U.S. was busy creating its own proxy army in Syria. The only organized, armed and politically organized power that was willing to be "the U.S. boots on the ground" belonged to the handiwork of Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK's Syrian offshoot the Democratic Union Party (PYD). The name of the game was now "fight Daesh," the American public could easily swallow it. Besides it wouldn't put the country in a collision course with Russia in an election season!
We will have a brand new President in Washington this evening. With almost 20, 000 slots to fill in the civil service, we cannot speak of a fully fledged administration yet. However the U.S. needs a clean break from the PYD to move back to what Secretary Tillerson portrayed in his confirmation hearing as the strong and long-time allies in the region.
The U.S. needs to be dependable again.
About the author
Hakkı Öcal is an award-winning journalist. He currently serves as academic at Ibn Haldun University.