Thursday, January 19, 2012

Erdogan and Assad

It is a common phenomena that when rulers rule too long they get bored with the internal affairs of their country and want to play on the international level. This happens not only with dictators but even more with democratic leaders who after some six year already will find that they are usually the most experienced among their international colleagues.

Often this results in rather embarrassing scenes. To make themselves internationally acceptable they blindly copy what the US is saying at the moment. And one gets the impression that they would do anything for a photo opportunity with the acting US president.

It looks like something like that is happening to Erdogan in Turkey too. While suppressing the press in his own country he enthusiastically embraced the Arab Spring. He pressured Mubarak to resign. He didn't utter one word of protest when the West initiated a civil war in Libya that killed 50,000, destroyed the country and brought it to near anarchy. And finally there was his "masterpiece": Assad in Syria.

And so we saw him going to Syria, having a long talk with Assad, coming back with the message that he had agreements with Assad for reform, feeling disappointed and deceived when Assad didn't deliver and then turning on Assad, calling for his resignation and introducing sanctions.

The list of misunderstandings here is almost too long to consider:
- It is very arrogant to think that as an outsider you can dictate how a country should be ruled. Even a dictator has his constituency that has to be consulted. And he has also to face practical difficulties that might have been ignored during the talks.
- Assad and his allies know the fate of Gadaffi and Mubarak and they will not be very eager to submit to the same treatment.
- Syria is a poor country and it is well known that poverty and democracy seldom go together. A regime change might very well end up as a Salafi dictatorship. Instead of democratization it might be a better strategy to aim for more freedom and less torture.
- Unlike his father Bashar al-Assad is not very political talented. International diplomats were already before the Arab Spring complaining that he seems out of touch with reality. He seems not to grasp basic concepts like that it is not wise to anger the US if it is not strictly necessary. In addition there is doubt how much power he really has and to what extent he is just a figurehead for other people.
- In this context one cannot expect that one day in Damascus will result in democratic change. Instead to achieve results some international diplomat or politician should take it upon him to serve as a kind of long term coach for Assad and other powerful people in his regime. That will be an unthankful job as the international media will likely discard him as defending the regime. Yet it is the only way to achieve peaceful change.

It is clear that Erdogan won't volunteer for this job. He wants to stand in the limelight and be praised and honored. For doing unpopular work with an uncertain outcome we will need someone else.

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