Why is Turkey not Joining the War Against ISIS?

Here we go again.  The lazy accusations against Turkey begin.  Last week, Turkey decided not to sign the U.S.-led Jeddah communiqué to put together an alliance to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  This action was interpreted as Turkey being invisible in the war against terror or Turkey turning its back on its Western allies.  None of these interpretations are accurate or helpful in destroying ISIS.  But what is Turkey trying to do?

I have been writing about how the war on radical terror with conventional weapons did not bring about the expected result of weakening terrorists; on the contrary, the number of terrorists has swelled in recent years.

I am surely not the only one who realizes this fact; the Turkish public opinion is also informed about the statistics.  When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Ankara recently, he was not bearing the news of a groundbreaking, new strategy.  He was discussing arming certain groups, using weapons, bombing places and a new war in the Middle East.

Turkey has passed the point of expecting different results from a strategy, which was tried countless times and produced no result other than deepening the already existing problem.  Turkey did not sign the Jeddah communiqué and does not want to take part militarily in the war against ISIS because the strategy on the table is missing a road map for managing the crisis and ending it.

For a strategy to be successful and responsive to realities of political life in the Middle East, it has to be engineered politically. It has to be supported by facts politically, historically and ideologically.

Trying to end the radical threat of ISIS by gunning down the individuals might be useful for disinvesting the manufactured weapons but surely fails to address the following criteria:

  • Politically, wars are no longer supported – if ever they were.  Not only European and Middle Eastern nations, public opinion in the U.S. is also against a new war in the Middle East, which has a potential to collapse an already fragile global economy.  After a seven-year-long global economic crisis, these nations can see that multiple military operations to fight terrorism are not sustainable.  Moreover, unlike the George W. Bush era, the U.S. is having a difficult time finding alliances in its militarized war on terror.
  • Historically, terrorist groups like ISIS, who use guerrilla warfare methods, have proven to be resilient against military operations.  Regular armies cannot defeat the irregular insurgencies since the latter use the advantage of spreading in their terrain like air in a room, not obeying any sort of international law.  Guerrilla armies in Cuba, Vietnam, China, Afghanistan, Laos, Sierra Leone, Cambodia triumphed over regular armies of much higher force in terms of population and armament.  Our American friends must not forget these lessons from history.
  • Ideologically, weapons are going to be useless against ISIS.  The majority of the politicians and analysts are still trying to ignore the fact that ideological blocks still exist – that ideas and beliefs matter to terrorists.  We are yet to understand the power of ideology.  NATO is arming Ukraine and Russia is arming rebels in the middle of Europe.  The Warsaw Pact had never dissolved; it morphed into the Shanghai Corporation Organization and kept its main ideology intact.  As a guerrilla organization, ISIS derives its main force from its ideology and like all guerrilla groups; it rests upon moral support, not financial primarily.  According to their ideology, the more Western powers attack the so-called “Islamic State” with weapons, the more they will prove to their followers or potential new recruits that they are right.  Just like all guerrilla armies’ fight for a so-called noble cause of their choosing; they will need to label a supposedly fascist force to provide them with adrenaline. In this particular case, the West with all its weapons will be appointed as that fascist evil to further fire up the guerilla fighters.

Are our allies listening?

Many Western intelligentsia and political circles may not be pleased with the AK Party but there is one solid fact: The AK Party had foreseen that the Syrian civil war will give birth to a radical organization, more violent than even al-Qaeda and had asked for a no-fly zone.  Prime Minister Davutoğlu reminded us on Wednesday that the West had ignored Turkey’s warning on the ideological background of the fight and how the then mild opposition would be radicalized if a no-fly zone was established.

It is now time to start trusting Turkey’s choices and understanding why they were made.  Turkey is seeking a way to dismantle ISIS without killing people, without using weapons as much as possible, other than for self-defense.  Turkey is seeking a way to de-radicalize the people who happened to join ISIS after heated debates of Muslim grievances.  Turkey is seeking to launch a worldwide ideological struggle to counter the narrative of ISIS.  Turkey is seeking a humanitarian way out, which will not further separate the peoples of the Middle East but unite them with a noble cause.  Turkey is seeking to keep people alive, while stopping this madness.  Are our allies listening?  It is still not too late.


Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on October 3, 2014, on Ceylan Özbudak, website featuring writing and commentary by Turkish journalist and author, Ceylan Özbudak.  It was reproduced here with the consent of Ms. Özbudak.

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