It is no secret that there are certain differences of opinion between the Turkish government and policy makers in Washington. It would be no overstatement to suggest that these differences relate not only to minor details but key aspects of the Syrian civil war, including the beginning of the violent conflict and what a viable road map to resolve the deadlock should look like.
The Turkish authorities believe that the civil war dates back to the siege of Daraa, a city in southwestern Syria, which claimed at least 244 lives and led to the arrest of some 1,000 Syrian citizens in March 2011. The Assad regime's extensive use of barrel bombs and willingness to resort to chemical attacks, Turkey maintains, have significantly deepened the crisis inside the country and across the region.
The U.S. government, in contrast, does not seem to think that the problem with Syria necessarily predates the rise of ISIS just a few months ago. When the regime perpetrated a chemical attack on the civilian population of Ghouta in August 2013, President Obama was quick to make a bold statement about crossing red lines and dealing with the consequences of one's actions, yet he did not act on his principles. It was not until ISIS launched its violent campaign in Syria and Iraq that the U.S. formed a coalition of reluctant proponents of no-boots-on-the-ground. Unwilling to commit ground forces itself, the Obama administration and others adopted a policy of appeasement toward Damascus and pledged to train moderate opposition forces to curb the influence of extremist ideas and groups.
Neutralizing the threat of ISIS, a terrorist organization that held several dozen Turkish nationals, including diplomatic personnel, hostage for several months, obviously represents an important and crucial objective for the Turkish government. The problem with the current strategy, however, is that it concentrates on eliminating ISIS forces yet fails to address concerns about the future of the Assad regime. Until the Syrian dictator is removed from power, the sheer existence of his atrocious regime – the fact that he could get away with crimes against humanity – will prevent efforts to curb the radicalization of opposition fighters and render efforts to restore regional stability ineffective. In response to the shortcoming of the coalition strategy, Ankara understandably proposes that the international community oversee the formation of a new political leadership in Damascus willing and able to represent all social groups, and asks for international assistance to the efforts of said authority. Thus far, the U.S. government opted to ignore these demands and instead formed a de facto alliance with the Assad regime. The fact that the regime currently threatens to capture Aleppo, which could trigger a new wave of immigration to Turkey, alone indicates just how encouraging the past few months have been for the tyrant.
Let's face the facts here: Both Turkey and the U.S. agree on the necessity to contain and neutralize the threat of ISIS terrorism. As a matter of fact, there are striking similarities between the Turkish government's position on the matter, where the White House stands and the assessments of prominent U.S.-based experts and observers. And to be fair, targeting ISIS terrorists on the ground represents a much more valuable effort to resolve the Syrian crisis than absolute silence, which the international community had delivered with notable expertise over the past years. Washington and its allies, however, cannot afford to lose sight of the bigger picture – that failing to hold the Syrian dictator accountable for mass murder and crimes against humanity will not only disrespect the memory of Assad's victims but also set a dangerous example for the next generation of tyrants and oppressors around the globe.