Notes on Turkey and Syria, #2

Turkish FM Davutoglu today told a couple of media outlets (including the NYT) that Syrian President Bashar al-Asad should launch a “shock therapy” version of political reform. Did he use those words in English? If so, it is a truly lousy turn of phrase. “Shock therapy,” as administered to the Russian economy by Jeffrey Sachs back in the day resulted in the evisceration and destruction of the nation’s economy. Shock therapy, as previously used in psychiatry, was violent, deforming, and usually unsuccessful.
Please, Ahmet Davutoglu, get a better turn of phrase. Something like “truly transformational reform”, perhaps?
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On Tuesday, Turkey is hosting a meeting of Syrian opposition activists and leaders in Antalya. The goal is, I think, to enable them to form a joint coordinating body. Sevil Kucukkosum of Hurriyet writes that the Syrian NGO the National Organization for Human Rights is the sole organizer of the gathering. Syrians do not need visas to visit Turkey. But I imagine the Turkish government is allowing this gathering to proceed.
The Hurriyet report says that representatives of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, “could participate at the Syrian opposition meeting.” The Syrian MB has never systematically followed the decision its Egyptian counterpart took in the early 1980, to hew to a solely nonviolent path.
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If Syria is really to enter the “grand constitutional process” that will be necessary to transform the country into a democratic, accountable, and inclusive democracy, then all parties (including above all, the government) will need to agree to a cessation of armed operations. All parties will also need to be able to negotiate the terms of the democratization, the rules going forward, and what to do about the many painful legacies of the past. The government needs to prepare and organize itself for this negotiation; and so does the opposition. From that perspective, having the opposition get organized is an excellent step. And it is doubtless good that the government is sending a (relative) reformer, Abdullah Dardari, to Ankara as ambassador in place of the harder line Nidal Kabalan.
Still reading the Hurriyet report there, however, I see it says this:

    Turkish officials have urged al-Assad to conduct a national dialogue that would include the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps even bringing that group into the government by granting it two ministries, according to a report in The New York Times. They have also suggested an anticorruption campaign, which would undoubtedly reach into al-Assad’s inner circle, and greater accountability for the security forces that have often been granted free rein in suppressing dissent.

Honestly, I don’t think any of this goes far enough. What is needed is a thoroughgoing transformation to a real, functioning, one-person-one-vote democracy, not just bringing two MB members into a Baath-dominated government. And this transformation will involve many other changes, as well, including institution of a transparent economic system and a system for ensuring civilian control of the military.
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Can this be achieved while a portion of Syria is still chafing Israeli occupation, while the Israeli military daily threatens Damascus and the whole of Syria and Lebanon, and while Syria is still in a formal state of war with Israel? I believe it can. If the United States is able to do only one thing to help support the process of democratization in Syria it should be to use all the levers at its command to tell the Israelis not to intervene in any way in Syria, and to assure Syrians that the U.S. still fully supports the concept of a “full land for full peace” deal between Israel and Syria and will work actively to see its speedy implementation.
The Asads, father and son, both pursued the “full land for full peace” deal actively with Israel through negotiations. But the negotiations were always stymied and blocked by Israel (with help from Dennis Ross and others) and never got anywhere. Though the Asads maintained a strategic posture toward Israel based on general military deterrence, over time that deterrence became puny in the extreme; and it cannot serve any longer to “justify” the maintenance of the bloated national-security apparatus that currently hangs over the whole society like a very heavy weight.
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Syria has been reeling from several years of drought and many more years of economic mismanagement and the economic burden of its national-security apparatus. It urgently needs economic help and the institution of sound economic policies. Turkey can do a lot to help in both regards, but it cannot do it alone.
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The two countries are extremely important to each other. Each is an important gateway between the other and a significant hinterland. They have many geopolitical interests in common. Turkey is about four times the size of Syria in population and about 12 times as big as it in GDP.
This report from the Ankara-based think-tank the International Strategic Research Organization (USAK) looks very interesting.
that report on it, from Today’s Zaman, says,

    A report released by an Ankara-based think tank indicates that as the Syrian regime faces hardships with the continuing public uprisings for a more democratic regime, Turkey should develop policies to influence the process to evolve democratically, since Syrian matters are “family matters” to Turkey.
    The report released on May 9… titled “The Name of Walking in a Mine Field: Forcing Change in Syria,” indicates that Syria is in need of “urgent change” and Turkey needs to develop policies in the direction of democratic change, as human rights groups say the death toll from Syria’s crackdown on a nine-week uprising has exceeded 1,000.
    The report states that Turkey’s priority should be preventing a foreign intervention.
    “A foreign intervention in Syria means disaster for both Turkey and the region. A solution is necessary before it reaches that point. Turkey should focus on Syria with all of its power. If the issues in Syria are not solved as soon as possible, Turkey’s initiatives in the region will fail,” the report said and continued: “Turkey’s assertion to be a model state in the region will weaken in particular. A Turkey that cannot be influential in solving matters in Syria will lose its positive image in the eyes of the Arab public. The situation in Syria could be seen as a foreign policy problem in other countries, but it is a family matter for Turkey. Events in the region will greatly affect Turkey.”

I’d love to see an English-language version of the whole report…
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As I noted in this piece that I blogged on Tuesday, I do think South Africa’s experience of a negotiated transition from minority rule to full democracy is one that can be very valuable for Syria. Of course, the South African parties and movements were able to complete their big constitutional transformation more or less on their own, while the Syrians evidently need a friendly outside force to act as mediator, convenor, and general chivvier, and structurer of the incentives. But still, there are a lot of excellent lessons the South Africans can offer.
One key one, I think, is that the focus of all participants should be determinedly forward-looking– laying the basis for a decent, egalitarian, accountable, and cooperative system going forward– rather than vindictive and backward-looking, seeking to settle endless old scores here and there. The Spaniards could offer some good lessons in this regard, too.

8 thoughts on “Notes on Turkey and Syria, #2

  1. Helena

    Henry, this Kara is a known exaggerator and self-aggrandizer. It’s not impossible that he is making this up, or grossly over-interpreting something he overhead someone saying. Syrian opposition people are really not as stupid as to do this.

  2. Henry James

    Helena, of course, Kara is not a reliable source. But, unlike Debka, JePo is an excellent source of info on what is going on in the Israeli security establishment.
    I can’t believe they publish anything without purpose. For example, JePo did its best not to be too positive about the Iranian Greens until they were crushed by the Khomeinists.
    So, something is going on in Syria. Maybe they came to the conclusion that their assets in Syria don’t have much of a future, so they throw the Syrian “democrats” under the bus? Just a thought.

  3. onur

    I think shock therapy is a correct term for describing Syria’s condition. Every other reasonable effort was useless, there is nothing left to try, a risky and destructive one last shot might work..

  4. annie

    If the United States is able to do only one thing to help support the process of democratization in Syria it should be to use all the levers at its command to tell the Israelis not to intervene in any way in Syria
    i’m not convinced the US is willing to use ‘all the levers at its command’ wrt israel. i also think it is unlikely israel won’t meddle in syria if they want to and if they want to something tells me dennis ross will not advise them otherwise.
    interesting post. i didn’t realize to what extent turkey was ‘like family’ with syria. i hope they can make a difference for the better there. improving syria is a win win for turkey because along with stabilizing syria it rises turkey’s star in the region as a successful intermediary.
    both the US and israel should step back and remain out of the picture.

  5. Elroy F.

    You are so right Annie about the US and Israel
    keeping out of Syria’s business. Why don’t we just
    let Assad keep butchering all of his enemies until
    he’s the only one left over there? If the U.S and
    Israel get involved, they’ll make the poor “syrians”
    start capitalizing themselves into Syrians, and we
    all know what that would eventually lead to.

  6. Eurosabra

    Israel cannot send infiltrators to Damascus, yet one Syrian Palestinian made it to Tel Aviv, and more charges are planned for Naksa Day. Who is intervening where, and in whose favor?

  7. epppie

    Ok, how can you use a phrase like “economic mismanagement” without acknowledging that Syria has been suffering under an economic war led by the US? Come on, Helena. You can do better than this.

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