By Sal Bommarito
The humanitarian issues surrounding the ISIS crisis are becoming more problematic every day. Millions of people are being forced to leave their homes and their country as the jihadists continue their crusade to kill all non-Arabs and Muslims who do not accept their version of Islam.
Interestingly, several countries have been more than generous by accepting refugees whose lives are endangered; Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon have welcomed many refugees over the past several months. These acts of kindness are not without serious repercussions. The cost of housing, feeding and assimilating refugees has seriously impacted the financial, political and social equilibrium in these countries, so much so that most are becoming resistant to further migration.
Turkey presents the most complex set of circumstances as the care of refugees has become intertwined with the political and security aspirations of the Turkish government.
Negotiation between Turkey and the U.S. pertaining to border security are very important in the fight with ISIS and for refugees. Most thought that Turkey would be an excellent coalition partner and anxious to defeat the interlopers at any cost. But, as delineated in a previous essay on this blog, the relationship between the Turkey and the U.S. is strained because the former has other motivations that do not necessarily emphasize the defeat of ISIS and the safety of refugees amassing at its border. An article in the New York Times on Tuesday provides a good explanation of the current state of affairs.
First and foremost, Turkey wants the U.S. to establish a no-fly zone along its border with Syria. The U.S. continues to consider the request but is still dealing with differences between the nations along with a “specific course of implementation.”
No doubt the no-fly zone would “give Syrian rebels and innocent civilians [including refugees] protection from the Islamic State and the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.” The proposed buffer zone is where “tens of thousands of Syrians have sought protection.” Turkey has already accepted “more than 1.3 million refugees.”
Simultaneously, the U.S. is negotiating with Turkey to use its Incirilik air base so that American planes would not have to fly from the Persian Gulf to deliver bombs. The decision to give landing rights to American military aircraft, according to the Turks, is dependent upon the no-fly zone implementation. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also wants to the U.S. to assist in deposing Assad in trade for providing additional assistance in fighting ISIS. In the meanwhile, thousands of Syrians are being slaughtered or forced to live in squalor.
Criticism of Turkish demands and benign participation in the conflict has been significant. In fact, Turkey’s NATO allies have been saying that “[Turkey] is failing to do enough to fight the Sunni militant group.”
What was unsaid in the article is that Turkey continues to restrict Kurdish support of Syrian Kurds even as ISIS and the Syrian government attack the Syrians on the other side of the border. Turkey has ignored the humanitarian aspects of this decision and continues to be more concerned with not providing any assistance that could bolster efforts to establish a Kurdish state.
Turkey is one of many coalition allies that have motivations beyond the defeat of ISIS and the well being of refugees. Consider Iran and its efforts to link its nuclear program to its participation in the war with ISIS. This strategy is shortsighted given that the extremists are currently on the Turkish and Iranian borders. All Arab leaders would be wise to deal with this most deadly threat and defer other goals to a later day. A more accommodative role in the war will certainly benefit the millions of refugees.