January 11, 2023 | The Dispatch

Erdogan’s Coming U-Turn on Syria

Why the Turkish president will likely drop his hopes of toppling Assad.
January 11, 2023 | The Dispatch

Erdogan’s Coming U-Turn on Syria

Why the Turkish president will likely drop his hopes of toppling Assad.

Excerpt

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been committed to toppling the regime of Bashar al-Assad for more than a decade. Turkey devoted a vast amount of diplomatic, military and economic resources to this costly pursuit. Erdogan’s efforts in Syria also damaged Turkish relations with the U.S. while drawing Ankara closer to the influence and patronage of Russia. While Washington harbored little love for the Assad regime, it chose to focus its attention on eliminating the threat posed by the Islamic State (ISIS), which for Turkey was at best a secondary threat until it was directly attacked in 2015. President Erdoğan instead focused his energies on Assad’s removal.  However, the Turkish leader appears set to conduct a major U-turn. In the first months of 2023, Turkey is likely to push for a negotiated settlement with the Assad regime, one that will result in a handshake between the embittered leaders. Why?

For starters, there is Erdoğan’s realization that Turkey’s entire Syria campaign is a colossal failure. For the majority of the early 2010s, Erdoğan seldom refrained from calling Assad a “terrorist” who must be eliminated. But he had no strategic goal in mind, other than to presumably have a Sunni counterpart replace Assad, an Alawite Muslim. Thus Erdoğan relied on any willing group—mostly radical jihadist terrorist entities—to defeat Assad. Turkey even went as far as facilitating the transit of individuals who likely joined the ranks of radical entities affiliated to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Sinan Ciddi is a non-resident senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he contributes to FDD’s Turkey Program and Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). Follow him on Twitter @SinanCiddi. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.

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Issues:

Islamic State Jihadism Kurds Military and Political Power Syria Turkey