If You Thought Obama’s Syria Policy Was Bad …

Try Erdogan’s. The Turkish prime minister’s decision to go all-in against Assad, Henri Barkey remarks, has backfired pretty severely:

At the start of the conflict, Erdoğan presumed that by putting his weight behind the rebels he would be speeding up regime change in Damascus; in fact, he and many others were confident that change would occur within six months. Obviously, they were wrong. The costs to Turkey range from the ever-increasing numbers of refugees severely taxing the social fabric in certain locations—not to mention the financial burden—to the loss of face for Erdoğan at home and in the region to fragmenting relations with regional powers such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. According to a recent Brookings report, there are a million Syrian refugees, most of whom have blended into Turkey and do not reside in camps. The cost to the Turkish treasury has already exceeded $2.5 billion. Furthermore, the Syrian crisis touches all the hot buttons of Turkish politics: the sectarian differences between the majority Sunni population and the Shi’a offshoot Alevis and the ethnic divisions along Turkish-Kurdish lines.

Meanwhile, ISIS militants continue to hold hostage 80 Turkish citizens captured in Mosul, most of them diplomats and staff from the Turkish consulate and their families. Tulin Daloglu plays up the irony that Turkey is now threatened by the same jihadist elements it has been tacitly supporting in Syria for several years:

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has been on the defensive for over a year about Turkey’s potential links to these radical extremist groups in their fight to bring down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Although it is improbable that Turkey directly provided support to these groups, it wasn’t until June 3 that Turkey finally designated Jabhat al-Nusra, another al-Qaeda spin-off group, as a terrorist organization. Turkey officially stated that the May 2013 Reyhanli car-bomb attack — the worst terror attack this country has ever seen, killing 52 Turkish citizens — was the work of the Assad regime, but the widespread belief was that it was an al-Qaeda attack.

Turkish authorities speaking on condition of anonymity, however, told Al-Monitor that the ruling Justice and Development Party could not admit it as such back then, and could not spell it out this time in Mosul. “They can’t say it because it would contradict the whole belief system of their core base,” one official said. “But the fact of the matter is that Turkey is certainly being threatened by al-Qaeda offshoots.”

Aaron Stein considers the manifold problems the implosion of Syria and Iraq has created for Turkey:

The major overland routes to Basra from Turkey run through Mosul. Ankara has already lost its ability to truck goods to the Gulf through Syria and may now have to deal with the same issue in Iraq. If  Turkey loses this route – and I think the taking hostage of 28 truck drivers may mean that this is inevitable – it could have some impact on Turkish trade with the region. In this regard, the importance of the KRG’s stability becomes even more paramount. In addition to the aforementioned security issues, the maintenance of a stable area of export is always near the top of the Turkish foreign minister’s agenda.

Turkey must also be concerned about the abysmal performance of the Iraqi security services. If Iraq descends further into chaos, Turkey will have to contend with two failed states on its borders. And in the absence of centralized authority, the expansion of ISIS territory could continue. However, in a perverse way, Turkey also does not want to see the rapid influx of advanced weaponry into Baghdad to support a fight against ISIS. Turkey is wary of Maliki’s sectarian agenda and does not want the Iraqi strongman to acquire the means to further solidify his hold on power. And any influx of modern weaponry erodes Turkey’s massive conventional superiority over the Iraqi state and could lessen Ankara’s air superiority over Kurdistan.

And, while the crisis may force a rapprochement between Turkey and Iran, Semih Idiz frames this as a product of Ankara’s weak position in the region:

It is no secret that Turkey and Iran are at odds over Syria, not to mention other issues, and have been engaged in what amounts to a proxy war, supporting opposing factions in that country’s sectarian civil war. The picture may be changing, however, with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad consolidating his power in regions under his control, while jihadist groups establish themselves in parts of northern Syria along the Turkish border as well as Iraq’s Nineveh province. …

Ankara and Tehran still disagree, of course, on Syria and Egypt, but it is Turkey that appears to be on weak ground in these respects. Ankara is therefore likely to be the party that gradually modifies its policies to match the reality on the ground. The belated designation of Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization, after numerous warnings from Washington and Tehran, already hints at change in this respect.