The Turkish PM was given the diplomatic courtesy of a lengthy meeting in the White House with President Barack Obama, followed by a joint press call in the Rose Garden.
But, much to Erdogan’s chagrin, the Americans were not buying his shopping list. This included more overt American weapons supply to NATO-backed mercenaries trying to topple the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad; the enforcement of no-fly zones in northern Syria; and for the US and its NATO allies, Britain and France, to take in a share of the 400,000 refugees that have fled to Turkey over the past two years.
What better way for Erdogan to make his sales pitch for an American dig-out from the Syrian quagmire that his country has become embroiled in than to prelude his Washington visit with a heinous act of terrorism?
Last Saturday, 11 May, the Turkish town of Reyhanli, just over the border with northwest Syria, was a scene of horrific carnage when twin car bombs blasted its centre. More than 50 people were killed, most of the victims Turkish citizens.
Within hours of the blasts, the Erdogan government was categorical in laying the blame on Syrian state forces. Erdogan and his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, led the charge of accusation against Damascus. Turkish media reported that 13 suspects were immediately arrested in connection with the massacre. The suspects have not been named, but Turk authorities were blaming the act of terrorism on a “Marxist group with links to Syrian military intelligence”. How conveniently vague.
On the day of the blasts, Turkish officials were claiming that they had recovered Syrian-registration car plates that “proved” their case. Given that Reyhanli has become a refugee hub for thousands of Syrians, many of whom have fled their country in their own vehicles, the adducing of Syrian car plates by the Turkish authorities is hardly “proof” of the perpetrators.
As if to confirm its initial accusations against Syria, on 14 May, the Turkish daily Hurriyet cited senior Turk officials claiming that the criminal investigation into the blasts “was complete”. This hasty
conclusion to one of the worst mass murders in recent Turkish history was in spite of the fact that 10 of the 51 victims had not yet been positively identified, 13 were reportedly in custody undergoing questioning, and the explosions outside the municipal centre of Reyhanli had wrought widespread devastation, including the destruction of more than 730 workplaces, 62 vehicles, eight public buildings and more than 120 residential homes.
On 16 May, while Erdogan was being hosted at the White House, the Turkish President, Abdullah Gul, issued a speech from the scene of terror in Reyhanli in which he denounced the “international community” for its “empty rhetoric” and lack of action over Syria. It was a thinly-veiled exhortation to the US and Turkey’s other NATO allies for more overt intervention in Syria – undoubtedly coordinated with Erdogan’s “shopping trip” to Washington.
Earlier in the week and immediately after the massacre in Reyhanli, the Syrian government issued an unequivocal denial of any involvement. Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said that his government would never engage in such an act of terrorism and he denounced the Ankara authorities for having made unsubstantiated allegations. Al Zoubi noted that the obvious party to gain from the horror was the Erdogan government in the context of its impending visit to Washington to drum up NATO intervention.
The rush to accuse Syria by Erdogan, regardless of hard evidence, strongly suggests that Ankara was at the very least using the Reyhanli bombings recklessly for political capital. But more than this, there is evidence that the Ankara authorities had foreknowledge of the atrocity.
During the week, Hurriyet cited Turkish Interior Ministry sources, including Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay, as claiming that they were tracking the bomb suspects in the capital, Ankara, three days before the attack happened in Reyhanli. The Turk officials claim that the suspects were spotted near the Kocatepe Mosque in Ankara.
“The tip alerting the authorities of a possible threat first came around 4 pm in the afternoon on May 8,” reports Hurriyet.
It strains credulity that if the Turkish security services knew a bomb squad was about to wreak havoc in Ankara, the alleged terrorists were then able to evade surveillance and travel more than 600 kilometers to the southern town of Reyhanli on the border with Syria to carry out their heinous plan three days later.
It seems more than reasonable that either the Turkish authorities deliberately let the Reyhanli massacre go ahead or that the Turkish military intelligence themselves carried out the atrocity. Either way, the political dividends of the “terror spectacular” were knowingly anticipated in order to give Erdogan leverage for his impending visit to Washington – five days after the atrocity. Again, from the Turkish government’s point of view, that visit in Washington was aimed at soliciting more direct NATO help in the regime-change operation unfolding in Syria.
There can be little doubt that Turkey is doing all the heavy lifting in the NATO covert campaign against Syria. This is especially since the NATO regime-change operation has not gone well to plan. More than two years after the US and its NATO and regional allies began fomenting a campaign of terrorism in Syria, the government of President Assad has emerged surprisingly strong and recalcitrant to his foreign enemies.
The Syrian government still retains popular legitimacy and support – that is, sovereignty – a fact that belies the Western propaganda claims of a “popular uprising against a despotic regime”. And, in
recent weeks, the Syrian army has begun to gain the upper hand militarily over the NATO-backed mercenaries, with thousands of the latter killed or captured.
Unlike the NATO regime-change operation in Libya, Syria has confounded the Western strategists. The protracted, and losing, Syrian campaign has played out very badly for Turkey in particular. Early in 2011, the Erdogan government, seduced by its own vision of neo-Ottomanism, allowed itself to become the cutting-edge for NATO’s criminal regime-change game-plan in Syria. But, more than 26 months on, and with up to 80,000 deaths, Erdogan finds himself with a lot of blood on his hands.
Following the Reyhanli massacre last weekend, Erdogan vowed that Turkey would not be “dragged into the Syrian quagmire”.
But the truth is Erdogan’s Turkey is up to its knees in this bloody quagmire – and, moreover, a quagmire than he has largely created from doing the bidding of the NATO powers.
Turkey’s border region and towns have become lawless centres of banditry and other crimes as the NATO mercenaries that Erdogan helped to unleash maraud at will.
With the Syrian refugee numbers in Turkey set to more than double from 400,000 to 900,000 by the end of this year, at a cost to the Turkish economy of $50 million a month, no wonder Erdogan’s shopping list in Washington this week included seeking the US and the European NATO states to do more to help. The refugee crisis hitting Turkey and its once-bustling economy is unsustainable.
Furthermore, the three-times elected Erdogan is paying a grievous political price for his NATO intrigues in Syria. His standing among the Turkish public (and the region generally) has slumped. Public protests in Ankara, Istanbul and other cities are denouncing Erdogan, Davutoglu, Gul and their ruling Justice and Development Party for inciting the violence and mayhem in Syria. These protests have only redoubled in the wake of the Reyhanli massacre.
These factors underscore why Turkey is failing, and flailing, in NATO’s Syrian quagmire. Erdogan is sinking into the sordid, blood-splattered mess that he and his political cronies have created at the behest of NATO. That is why his visit to Washington was aimed at soliciting a lifeline from this quagmire and why the massacre at Reyhanli could very well have been engineered to maximise his plea.
But the deep trouble for Erdogan is that he will find, as many others before him have found, that he is expendable in Washington’s nefarious geopolitical game.