The Buzz

Does Erdogan Really Want War?

"Turkey's President Wants War in Syria. Turks Don't," says a headline at The New Republic today. Suzy Hansen explains what she sees as the increasing bellicosity of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister. (The TNR headline writers must have jumped the gun, since there is speculation that the PM hopes to someday transfer his powers to a presidential post.) But aside from the presidential title slipup, the headline generally captures Hansen's thesis:

All signs point to a wider regional conflict, and if you’ve been following these events from the United States, it indeed appears as though Turkey is just one incident away from sending in troops. All his fiery rhetoric and heroic vows to stand up to Assad would also imply that the Turkish people are behind him. They are not.

By focusing primarily on the public opinion aspect of the crisis, though, Hansen may miss the larger question of what kind of strategic decisions Erdogan faces. As Aaron Stein and Dov Friedman wrote here at TNI last week, Erdogan's options may be limited for reasons other than perceived public support:

The Turkish response [to Syria] likely will continue to be tit-for-tat artillery strikes alongside interventionist rhetoric—feinting to help reestablish deterrence. The response fits neatly into a narrative of proportionality and helps assuage domestic frustration with the AKP’s handling of the crisis. Turkey appears intent on managing tensions with Syria and preventing them from dragging Turkey into Syria’s internal conflict. Thus, Turkey may have wisely cloaked its narrow retaliatory options in the language of proportionality.

Stein and Friedman also pointed out that "the lack of military systems needed to carry out Turkey’s numerous threats has undermined Ankara’s attempts at coercing Assad to make concessions."

Erdogan may indeed have a public-opinion problem, but he likely is constrained by the reality that he would have a hard time escalating the conflict—even if he believed doing so was in Turkey's interest.