The Turkish government’s recent decision to award its high-altitude missile defense contract to China conjured images of the residents of Troy rejoicing the large, Greek-made wooden horse at the end of the Trojan Wars. That story did not have a pleasant end for the Trojans. It is not clear how this one will play out for Ankara and its NATO allies.
Barın Kayaoğlu is finishing his doctorate in history at the University of Virginia. He was recently a Smith Richardson Foundation fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University. You can follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (Barın Kayaoğlu).
The leaks from National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden showed what Hollywood has been telling all along: Big Brother is watching you. All you had to do was pay attention.
Of course, the biggest problems with the NSA’s eavesdropping activities are government overreach and the threat to personal liberties. But these problems are a result of another one that is quite telling about how Washington has dealt with national security since 9/11.
One of the most important responses to the 9/11 attacks was the passage of the PATRIOT Act. The act gave the federal government authority to oversee anything from financial transactions to border control and from immigration to communication.
But what Washington has not yet done is to create a professional cadre of civil servants to run those operations.
That’s the problem. With so many agencies, companies, and contractors in the mix, redundancy, waste, and, yes, leaks are inevitable. A government outsourcing national security is quite different than a credit card company outsourcing call centers.
What is the solution then? History might provide us an answer.
Nevertheless, reducing redundancy in government was a sound one. Today, it could teach Washington a thing or two. Drone strikes – essentially a military operation – are run by the CIA. The U.S. military is still doing nation-building in Afghanistan (and might well do so in other places in the future).
These agencies may or may not be the best tools for the job. Carefully defining areas of operation for different agencies would help to avoid overlaps and ensure efficiency. Training a cadre of civil servants who would view their work as one of a life-time rather than “a one-year thing” would boost counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence efforts in the United States and around the world.
There is clearly a way – by no means easy or cheap but very necessary – to ensure America’s safety without violating the Constitution. Let us hope the Snowden scandal will teach Washington that lesson.
Barın Kayaoğlu, a Smith Richardson Foundation fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University, is finishing his Ph.D. in history at the University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.
I remember having mixed reactions back in 2009 when President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. On the one hand, just like many people in the United States and around the world, I was excited about his presidency. He looked, spoke, and acted differently than his predecessor, George W. Bush.
I was worried that the immense weight of the Nobel would raise expectations so high that – much like a child prodigy cracking under pressure and failing to reach his full potential – Mr. Obama would not be able to accomplish a great deal on the international scene.
To be sure, the American president has had impressive foreign policy accomplishments. He successfully guided the new nuclear arms reduction treaty (new START) with Russia through what could’ve been an impossible Senate ratification. His cautious approach to the Libyan Revolution in 2011 and his reluctance to go to war with Iran for its controversial nuclear program are also commendable. But the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize should earn the award by averting a major war or alleviating massive suffering, especially if he or she happens to be a current president of the United States.
Obama’s Allies and Adversaries in Syria
I was hoping that Syria would give Mr. Obama that opportunity but I don’t think that’s going to happen. The last time I wrote about Syria fifteen months ago, I had ended on a pessimistic (and somewhat banal) note: “Half-hearted political talk will certainly not solve Syria’s tragedy. But determined action may not be the answer either.” 70,000 dead Syrians later, I’m sorry to see that I have yet to be corrected.
The problem facing the President is that two of America’s Middle Eastern allies which are most involved in the Syrian crisis – namely, Turkey and Qatar – are pursuing policies that undermine U.S. interests. While Washington hopes to end the conflict on a negotiated settlement – the guns fall silent, an interim government takes over, and the Syrian people decide their future in free and fair elections – Ankara and Doha arm Sunni extremists, most notably Al-Nusra Front, which recently announced its allegiance to Al-Qaeda, the group that carried out the attacks of September 11, 2001. Al-Nusra is busy replacing the Free Syrian Army as the main insurgent group in Syria.
Not even Mr. Obama’s good relations with the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, can help the United States to break the Syrian knot. The two leaders are scheduled to meet in Washington on 16 May. Even if the American president makes a convincing case that Turkish support for Sunni insurgents is making the war in Syria bloodier, longer, and harder to end, it may not have an effect. In the aftermath of the car bombings in the Turkish town of Reyhanlı on the Syrian border two days ago, Mr. Erdoğan maintained his combative and defiant tone; he is not the type to admit mistakes and change course.
It would have been great for the United States if Mr. Erdoğan had the power to topple the Assad regime singlehandedly. The problem is that neither Turkey nor any of Washington’s regional allies – except perhaps Israel – would be able to pull off a military operation against Assad without U.S. support. After the Syrian military shot down a Turkish jetfighter last year, civilian and military leaders in Ankara realized the immense costs of the fight for Syria. The allegations of the use of chemical weapons sobered them once again. The Jordanians, Saudis, or Qataris would also be very hesitant to engage Assad head-on for similar reasons. As for the Israelis, despite their capabilities, it would be foolish of them to hand a golden opportunity to Damascus and Tehran to make the case that the uprisings in Syria are part of a “Zionist plot.”
Indeed, American “birds in the sky” may prevent the need for “boots on the ground.” Or, American birds could very well be combined with Turkish, Saudi, Qatari, and Jordanian boots on the ground. Unfortunately, even then a resolution to the Syrian conflict may not come, especially if Iranian and Lebanese Shia boots respond in kind.
The irony with the current deadlock in Syria is that, if Mr. Obama wants to resolve it on America’s terms, he would have to act like his maligned predecessor and go it alone (or preferably with “a coalition of the willing”). In fact, unlike Mr. Bush in Iraq in 2002-03, Mr. Obama may actually find many eager regional partners to topple Bashar Assad. Yet, it’s highly unlikely that the American people and their president will walk down that road – unless, of course, Mr. Obama decides to return his Nobel Prize.
Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Virginia and a predoctoral fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.
Rusya’nın ve Çin’in Birleşmiş Milletler Güvenlik Konseyi’ndeki vetolarının ardından uluslararası toplum Suriye Devlet Başkanı Beşar Esad’ı devirmek için yeni yöntemler aramaya başladı. Geçen hafta Tunus’ta toplanan “Suriye’nin Dostları” toplantısı da düzinelerce irili ufaklı gruptan oluşan Suriye Ulusal Konseyi’ni bütünlüğü olan bir cephe haline getirmeyi amaçlıyordu. Yabancı güçler bu yolla Konsey’e önümüzdeki günlerde “sürgündeki Suriye hükümeti” olarak tanımayı düşünüyor olabilir. Ancak Suriye’nin dostlarının yapmaları gereken daha çok şey var.
Uluslararası camianın Suriye konusunda artık ciddi şekilde harekete geçmesi gerektiği kesin. Suriye ayaklanması başlayalı bir yıl geçti ve 8 bin insan öldü. Ancak uluslararası camia “güvenli bölgelerin” ya da Özgür Suriye Ordusu’na daha fazla silah ve mühimmat vermenin sorunu çözeceğine inanıyorsa kendisini kandırıyor demektir. 1990’larda Bosna-Hersek’te ve Ruanda’daki insani harekatlar, “güvenli bölge” kavramının başarısızlığını ortaya koydu. Daha da kötüsü, güçlü bir barış gücünün yokluğu saldırgan tarafı daha çok insanı öldürmeye teşvik edebilir.
Bu da demek oluyor ki yabancı devletler kapsamlı bir askeri harekatla Suriye’de barışı tesis edip edemeyeceklerini ciddi şekilde düşünmeye başlamalılar.
Ancak “askeri harekat” ibaresini hayata geçirmek, cümle içinde kullanmaktan çok daha zor. Halihazırda Rusya ve Çin, Batılı devletlerin, Turkiye’nin ve Arap Birliği’nin “Suriye’nin içişlerine” karışmalarını istemediklerini belli ettiler. Benzer şekilde, İran’ın da kaynaklarını (bkz. Hizbullah) Şam’daki müttefiklerini korumak için çok daha etkin bir şekilde kullanacağından emin olabiliriz. Ayrıca Batı’da, Türkiye’de ve diğer Arap ülkelerinde kamuoyunun Suriye’ye kapsamlı bir askeri müdahaleye ne kadar destek verecekleri de meçhul.
Eğer uluslararası camia Suriye’de Baas rejimini ortadan kaldırma konusunda kararlıysa, Esad sonrasında en çok tehlike arz eden noktayı da görmek zorunda: Suriye’nin çok mezhepli yapısı göz önüne alındığında yabancı müdahale – tıpkı Irak’taki gibi – dini çatışmaları alevlendirebilir. Bu da Suriye halkının durumunu şimdikinden bile daha kötü bir hale sokar.
Suriye’deki trajediyi gönülsüz siyasi nutukların çözemeyeceği aşikar. Ancak kararlı bir askeri müdahale de çözüm olmayabilir.
In the aftermath of the Russian and Chinese vetoes at the United Nations Security Council, many Western countries and their Middle Eastern allies are looking for new ways to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The “Friends of Syria” meeting held in Tunisia last week aimed to remake the Syrian National Council – a coalition comprising dozens of different opposition groups – into a more cohesive front. Foreign governments are probably laying the groundwork to recognize the Council as a “government-in-exile” in the near future. But Syria’s friends have a long way to go before they have a shot at ousting Assad.
Beyond giving political backing to the Syrian National Council, arming the Free Syrian Army seems as a more realistic option. The FSA, a militia group primarily composed of soldiers who have deserted Assad’s army, is already using Turkish territory for its activities. Thus, the Turkish government’s threats against Assad that “all options are on the table” should be read as an intention to establish “safe areas” and perhaps more.
There is no question that the international community has to do something about the tragedy in Syria. It’s been a year and over 8,000 dead Syrians since the uprisings have begun. But the countries backing anti-Assad forces in Syria would be fooling themselves if they think “safe areas” or giving more arms and ammo to the FSA will accomplish anything. Humanitarian missions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda in the 1990s amply demonstrated that “safe areas” are half-hearted attempts that do not succeed. More important, the absence of a strong international force only emboldens the aggressor to kill more – something that the international community is supposed to prevent.
The international community should also think whether it should and could makepeace through a full-scale military intervention in Syria because talking the talk of military intervention is easier than walking the walk. Russia and China have already demonstrated that they do not want Western countries, Turkey, and the Arab League in Syria. It is almost certain that Iran will mobilize its resources and assets (read: Hezbollah) to shore up its allies in Damascus. It is also certain that public opinion in the West, Turkey, and Arab countries will not support military action against Syria.
If the anti-Assad groups and their international supporters are really determined to overthrow the Baath regime, they have to see the biggest risk about post-Assad Syria: given its multi-confessional nature, foreign intervention may very well exacerbate religious discord (à la Iraq). That will put the people of Syria in a situation even worse than the present.
Half-hearted political talk will certainly not solve Syria’s tragedy. But military action does not look like the answer either.
Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.