Since the beginning of the clashes in Kobani with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) there has been an increasing degree of pressure from the international community for Turkey to intervene militarily in the crisis in the region. Different observers wrote pieces criticizing Turkey’s caution to use its military to aid the forces fighting against ISIS to defend Kobani and provide passage to its fleeing residents. As a recent Washington Post editorial stated, it almost turned into a “blame Turkey” defense for some in Washington.
In different platforms several analysts tried to respond to these criticisms by underlining the problematic nature of a unilateral military intervention, the limitations of Turkey’s military capability to do so and the possible dangerous outcomes that may threaten Turkey and the region’s security as a result of an immature and ill-planned military operation. These criticisms of Turkey took a sharp turn with recent reports in several newspapers with quotes from anonymous senior White House officials expressing their “frustration” and “angst” over Turkey’s “inaction” in Kobani.
First of all, last week a report in The New York Times stated that “the U.S. administration was frustrated by what it regards as Turkey’s excuses for not doing more militarily.” The report quoted a senior administration official saying that “there’s growing angst about Turkey dragging its feet to act to prevent a massacre less than a mile from its border.” The anonymous senior official had more to say about Turkey. He also told The New York Times: “This isn’t how a NATO ally acts while hell is unfolding a stone’s throw from their border.” Following this, another report, this time in The Washington Post titled “U.S. frustration rises as Turkey withhold military help from besieged Kobane” also quoted another senior official criticizing Turkey for not doing enough. Quoting both of these in a recent piece, David Kenner of Foreign Policy stated that “There’s no harsher critic of the Turkish government these days than anonymous U.S. officials.”
Of course we don’t know who these senior officials are and which branch of U.S. government they belong to, but they obviously have a really low threshold for “frustration” and “angst.” There is no disputing the fact that the international community needs to do whatever it can to stop the massacres by the regime Bashar al-Assad in Syria, ISIS in both Syria and Iraq and to work on a long term strategy to eradicate the cause of this chaos and mayhem – its products and outcomes, such as ISIS. However, we hope these senior officials were aware of the fact that it could have been stopped much earlier and for the last three years the U.S. administration have frustrated many people and countries in regard to the conflicts in the Middle East.
There are a number of former high level officials expressing these frustrations publicly in recent months. For instance, Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense for President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, in his memoirs, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” expressed his frustration over the dysfunction in Washington in foreign and defense policy making. Later during interviews he was more specifically critical about some senior administration officials at the White House. Following this, some other former administration officials started to write their own accounts and frustrations more specifically about Syria. For example, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in her book, “Hard Choices,” how she and the then director of the CIA, David Patraeus, tried to bring together a plan to arm Syrian rebels, find a solution to the growing problem in Syria and how it was refused by the White House. Following the capture of Mosul by ISIS, Secretary Clinton was more open about her criticisms. She stated that failure to train, arm and vet the Syrian opposition led to the empowerment of Assad and failure to bolster the emergence of a credible political opposition in Syria. The second secretary of defense in Obama’s cabinet, Leon Panetta, was not different in his frustration over the Obama administration’s foreign policy decision making over Syria. Panetta was especially critical about the handling of the situation in the aftermath of the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. In regard to the “red line,” he said that “the power of the United States rests on its word, and clear signals are important both to deter adventurism and to reassure allies that we can be counted on.”
Those that are frustrated with the U.S. administration’s policies on Syria are not only these heavyweight figures that served as cabinet members. Former ambassadors and envoys of the Obama administration have not been very different in their frustration. Robert Ford, former U.S. ambassador to Syria, said in an interview that he could no longer defend U.S. policy in Syria, which according to him made the resolution of the conflict more difficult and challenging and helped radical groups gain more power. Another former State Department official responsible for policy on Syria, Fred Hof, was also one of these people who is critical about the administration and even called the U.S. decision after the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime “strategically appalling.”
It is not all about former administration officials however. When talking with the observers, analysts and journalists in Washington one can hear the same form of criticism and frustration over the foreign policy decision making and policies over Syria. Syrian activists in Washington have been totally shocked and frustrated by the reluctance of the administration to act. Of course the inaction of the U.S. also frustrated many of its allies in the Middle East for the last three years. Following the Bush administration’s war in Iraq – probably one of the most criticized foreign policy moves of a president in recent history – will be the inaction of the U.S. administration in Syria.
The senior officials who are frustrated by Turkey’s inaction must understand that many in Washington and in the region have found the U.S. attitude more frustrating than anyone else’s. Maybe because of the recognition of these criticisms at home and abroad, there are some discussions about the necessity and possibility of a shakeup in the administration in foreign policy. Maybe these new names will be more receptive to frustrations of others to U.S. foreign policy.
This article was originally published in the Daily Sabah on October 13, 2014.