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Turkey's Chance for a New Ottoman Empire

Two months ago, we took note of Turkey's uncharacteristically belligerent tone against its neighbor and (until recently) ally, the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad. It sounded an awful lot like Turkey was preparing to flex its muscles in the region and once again become a regional leader rather than a faux Arab state bit player. Indeed, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may have regognized a once-in-an-epoch opportunity to attempt nothing less bold than a restoration of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey's latest statement to Syria is a clear threat, made in the style of similar recent international interventions in the cause of human rights:

"This is our final word to the Syrian authorities, our first expectation is that these operations stop immediately and unconditionally... If these operations do not stop, there will be nothing left to say about the steps that would be taken."

Will we see a full-blown Turkish invasion and de-facto annexation of Syria on the pretext of toppling a dictator who is slaughtering his own people? Such a gamble would seem to have a lot to recommend it, from Erdogan's perspective.

First, while NATO is tied down in Libya and effectively grounded everywhere else thanks to the bankruptcy of the USA and Europe, the democratic member nations of NATO would love to see the Syrian regime toppled. The overthrow of a regime that tortures its own people and exports terror throughout the region is no benefit to global stability -- indeed, these were the reasons NATO gave for bombing Moammar Gadhaffi's tanks. Turkey going in with its powerful military, perhaps given logistical support from other NATO nations to give it the semblance of an allied effort, would show the world that NATO is still relevant. This would do much to counter arguments (which are quite valid) that Turkey has done much to block more active NATO interventions elsewhere.

The Arab League, already condemning Syria even more strongly than the West these days, is bound to support Turkey in a military intervention, at least diplomatically. Again, this would help show the world that the Arab League also has relevance. Arab nations that daily condemn the "imperialism of the West and Zionism" seem to have much fonder revisionist memories of their centuries-long colonization by the Ottomans. The old imperial overlord, remembered more fondly with the passing of time, is bound to get a free pass here.

Turkey would have little to worry about from Islamist jihadists, unlike an American or European intervention in Syria that would almost certainly activate Al Qaeda in Syria (despite the Allawite nature of the Assad clan, which is not technically related to Islam). Islamists aiming for a restoration of the Caliphate could not credibly fight against Turkey's openly Islamist government, whose military drive potentially could give the jihadists precisely what they aspire to.

Syrian nationalists would naturally reject a Turkish troop presence for the long term. But nationalism in Syria has long been tied to the discredited Assad regime. And nationalism is hardly something with deep roots in Syria, since the country's borders were determined by Europeans following the breakup of the Turkish empire.

If Erdogan could offer Syrians the Islamicized version of democracy Turkey has created, this would be a step up from the fear-based police state that most have known their whole lives. Would they really object to trading in the trappings of a failed state that has provided neither freedom or jobs, in return for a Turkish passport and access to the only thriving economy in the region outside of Israel?

Opportunities like this to change the political map do not come around often. In centuries past, these moments were used to carve out the empires that ultimately transformed into the nation states of today. Realpolitik-obsessed Otto von Bismark famously used his moment to annex and transform a gaggle of weak competing Teutonic states into a German regioinal superpower that at one time threatened to envelope all of Europe. The consequences of Erdogan taking up his own Bismarck moment are difficult to predict, but it would seem that if he chose to act now, few would object.

Jonathon Narvey is the Editor of The Propagandist


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