As President Obama speaks of a campaign against ISIL that could last years, the role of Turkey is coming into focus as critics accuse the American ally and NATO partner with aiding ISIL's growth.
Prior to his appearance on Meet the Press, the president devoted much of his speech at last week's NATO summit in Wales to outlining how a 10-nation arm of the alliance would band together to "degrade" and "dismantle" ISIL with help from a broad coalition. While Turkey is one of the countries meant to be involved, American Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was in Ankara today trying to figure out to what extent Turkey can actually be relied upon to act.
Hagel is in Turkey to ask Erdogan to pretty please take care of ISIS for us http://t.co/CUgqY0dL6s— Max Fisher (@Max_Fisher) September 8, 2014
Reuters, quoting an administration official, conveyed the sense that the bar is pretty low:
Part of the point of this visit is to follow up ... to really see how far they’re willing to go, understanding that they have tremendous national security challenges at home..."
Turkey, as a neighbor to Syria, whose three-year civil war wrought the creation of ISIL, has not been immune to the impact of the war. Nearly 850,000 Syrian refugees have crossed into Turkey while a stream of foreign fighters have entered Syria from Turkey.
Nevertheless, the nascent campaign against ISIL places Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a weird spot. As someone who has supported the efforts by rebels in Syria to overthrow Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, Erdogan is, by default, complicit in the creation of ISIL. As Doug Bandow writes in Forbes:
After all, Ankara is partly to blame for ISIL’s rise. The Erdogan government long ago decided to support the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Ankara allowed opposition fighters from all sides easy access to the battlefield. None were too brutal or radical to bar passage. This included ISIL, which gained strength and resources by conquering Syrian territory. Reported the Washington Post: “eager to aid any and all enemies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey rolled out the red carpet.” The government simply looked the other way as members of the Islamic State and other Islamist groups traveled to Syria."
There are other reasons why Turkey will not be expected to act. For starters, several dozen Turkish hostages are currently being held by ISIL in Mosul. There also seems to be a fear of ISIL attacks within Turkey. And finally, according to the Daily Beast, Turkey seems to be benefitting from ISIL's smuggling of diesel, which is netting the terrorist group untold wealth.
The lack of effective measures to stop the smuggling has some analysts doubting whether Ankara is fully committed to the confrontation with the jihadists on its southern border."