Border Blast: The Fallout and Predicting Turkey’s Response

Today’s bombing at the Reyhanli border gate could not have come at a worse time for the AK Party. Their Syria policy is unpopular, which had in turn forced Erdogan to switch from a policy of loud interventionist twinged rhetoric, to simply chastising the West for its hands-off approach. This will force the Prime Minister to address the mounting violence in Syria, which will in turn draw fire from critics for his failure to implement a workable Syria policy.

This will distract from more pressing local issues that Erdogan and the AK Party are currently in the process of trying to implement. Erdogan is gearing up for the release of an AKP written constitution that is likely to have a clause for a directly elected, and perhaps further empowered, presidency. They need to protect their political flanks from the likely backlash from Turkey’s very weak, but very vocal, Republican People’s Party (CHP). The border incident will surely lead to a loud condemnation, but escalation remains unlikely at this time. Erdogan is going to want to change the subject as quickly as possible. The longer the news stays focused on Syria, the more ammunition his critics will have to come after him.

Moving forward, the border blast (should it be tied to Syrian intelligence) is likely to raise more questions about the trajectory of Turkish foreign policy. Thus, the biggest loser within the administration is likely to be Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. The powerful Foreign Minister is rumored to have lost some favor and influence within the cabinet and it is unclear if his new humanitarian foreign policy (which sounds an awful lot like the old “zero problems/strategic depth” foreign policy) will help Turkey address the potential blowback from a post-Assad Syria.

Ankara is likely to continue its preferred strategy of publicly chiding the West for its inaction. This allows Erdogan to deflect criticism of his country’s foreign policy, while also wrapping his rhetoric within his recent public displeasure with the American Ambassador and the European Union. Despite the political benefits of this strategy, the Prime Minister is going to try and pivot away from this latest crisis as soon as possible. Turkey’s Syria policy remains deeply unpopular and the public has not shown any change of heart for a more interventionist oriented policy.

However, the Prime Minster is unlikely to emerge unscathed. The AKP has, thus far, failed to explain why his government has not taken more strident efforts to protect border towns.  Turkey’s only effort appears to be its decision to ask for Patriot missile interceptors. The expensive missiles, however, have absolutely no use against the type of asymmetric threats that Turkey is currently facing. At best, they are a defense against a small scale ballistic missile attack. At worst, they are psychological reassurance for the Turkish populace.

In any case, the criticisms of the AKP’s handling of Syria are likely to become more pronounced, which in turn will prompt the ruling party to increase its criticism of the West for “abandoning Turkey and the Syrian people.”

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About aaronstein1

I am an Istanbul based PhD Candidate a King's College London.
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