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Needed: A Turkish-American Plan for Syria 16 mai 2013

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie, USA / Etats-Unis.
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The Wall Street Journal Europe (USA) 16 May 2013, p. 14

By Morton Abramowitz and Eric Edelman *

When U.S. President Barack Obama hosts Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House today, their talks about Syria will have a fresh urgency. On Saturday, car bombings in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli killed at least 50 people. The Erdogan government blamed the Bashar Assad regime in Damascus for the attack.

Assad’s ouster is desperately desired by both leaders, and they will no doubt focus on this objective, particularly the question of a no-fly zone that Mr. Erdogan seeks. But a fundamental concern gets little attention because it seems so distant and difficult: What kind of Syria do they want to emerge from the massive destruction, and what is a realistic way of achieving it?

U.S. national-security interests are at stake in Syria’s civil war. Along with the possibility of chemical or other weapons of mass destruction being seized by terrorists in the chaos, these security concerns include thwarting Iran’s aspirations for regional hegemony, an aim reflected in Tehran’s support for Assad. The U.S. also wants to deny violent extremists another haven.

Yet the benefits of deposing Assad could prove short-lived if his repressive rule is replaced with another form of oppression or an unstable failed state. Syria is riven by ethno-sectarian fissures and is now a part of the larger regional strategic competition between Sunni and Shiite Muslim blocs. Assad’s removal by itself will not heal the increasingly sharp divisions in Syrian society, or prevent foreign forces from meddling and encouraging irredentist or other divisive movements.

To keep Syria together, a political transition must create a central government able to lead the entire country, but inclusive enough not to alienate frightened minority groups, which may by then include Assad’s Shiite Alawites in a majority Sunni country. Given the immense difficulty of this task, analyzing and planning for it should begin now.

Washington must take a leading role. The U.S. has great resources and coalition-convening power, but it lacks influence with the various forces of the opposition and has limited knowledge of the elements in Syria that can best shape a post-Assad government. Democratic Turkey’s help on this front will be paramount.

Mr. Erdogan once made close ties to Assad a pillar of Turkey’s foreign policy. He reversed course months after the anti-Assad uprising began over two years ago and threw his support behind the opposition. He is anxious to see a return of stability in Syria, and the return of some 400,000 Syrian refugees who have fled to Turkey. This could ease the prime minister’s serious domestic financial and political problems before his planned revision of the constitution this year to allow for the more powerful presidency he aspires to.

However important a more stable and democratic-leaning Syria is to the U.S. and Turkey, their visions of how to achieve that objective may diverge. The major concern for Washington is that Turkey — now led by an avowedly secular but Islamic-oriented government — is pursuing a sectarian religious agenda in Syria, particularly through political and military support for the Muslim Brotherhood and allied rebels.

Throughout the Middle East, Turkey has sought close relations with Sunni Islamist governments in Egypt, Tunisia and Gaza. This pattern and Syria’s terrible disorder suggest that the Turkish government will favor quickly establishing a post-Assad government dominated by Syria’s Sunni majority, paying little attention to the needs of Syria’s minorities, some of whom have strongly supported Assad.

Mr. Erdogan’s preference for Sunni domination could be reinforced by concern about the political future of Syria’s Kurds. In recent months he has taken impressive, significant steps to end a three-decades-long guerrilla conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a nationalist movement with a strong presence among Syria’s Kurds. Whether this effort will succeed is not clear, and timing is crucial. Mr. Erdogan will be wary of accepting a post-Assad Syria — with its possibly restive and autonomy-seeking Kurds — unless Ankara has sufficient control over its own Kurdish regions.

From the U.S. perspective, however, the political participation of minorities — especially the Kurds, but also Alawites, Druze and Christians — will be important in determining the stability of post-Assad Syria. Sunnis, making up three-quarters of Syria’s population and long oppressed by the predominantly Alawite Assad regime, will have a leading role in any new Syrian government.

Yet if the Muslim Brotherhood or some other Sunni regime asserts the tyranny of the majority without protecting minority interests, civil strife and refugee flows could well continue. Worse, if such a government is dominated or influenced by al Qaeda-allied extremists, post-Assad Syria could become a breeding ground for global terrorism.

There is urgency if the U.S. is to try to create a reasonably stable, more pluralist Syrian government. Equally important will be pressing Turkey to support that effort as an indispensable ally. Both leaders could begin by designating high-level officials to address the challenges of a post-Assad Syria — although Mr. Erdogan will be less inclined to cooperate if Mr. Obama offers little American involvement in bringing Assad down.

* Mr. Abramowitz is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and Mr. Edelman is former undersecretary of Defense for policy. Both are former U.S. ambassadors to Turkey and co-chairmen of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Task Force on the U.S. and Turkey in the Middle East.


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