Syria Video Analysis: Turkey Is In the Fight

A 5-minute analysis setting out one of the key lessons of the insurgency’s recent offensive in Latakia Province, as well as revelations on a leaked audio tape from Ankara — Turkey is fully engaged in the fight against the Assad regime:

For months we have been told that foreign backers of the insurgency are backing away. We have been told that insurgents will be left to wither, and perhaps, in the face of the Assad regime’s attacks.

Quite frankly, the US has been backing away, or at least has been indecisive. But Saudi Arabia is not stepping aside — and neither are the Turks.

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.


  1. As I’ve said since I came to this site, it was pretty obvious that the United States and in general Western states have been backing away (thankfully in my opinion, a US intervention in the Middle East is never a good thing) due to their apprehension against potentially unpredictable Islamists which include some jihadists like the Nusra Front. The only thing the United States, Israel etc loathe more than an Arab dictatorship is Islamist militias, particularly over the past decade. In this they are exactly the same as Russia and its client puppet regime in Chechnya, and of course the Baathists. Iran’s Shia Islamist regime has long been affiliated with Russia and Syria, so not a surprise to see them back the regime either. At least Iran has in this regard been consistent, since they also back the client regime in Iraq which the Americans helpfully helped install (and since the Americans are unusually in sync with the Iranians in support of the current Iraqi regime, you don’t hear a peep from them about Maliki’s atrocities, but only about Assad’s)

    Pro-Baath propaganda that the Americans are “pro-rebel” is nonsense in this regard, they were pro-rebel at the start of the revolt but no more.

    On the other hand Turkey and Saudi Arabia etc have no such qualms–the Saudis do in term of Islamists at home, but they’re perfectly happy to let Islamists overthrow their regional rivals. And that’s why we see volunteers streaming in from right across the Muslim world to fight the regime, from Chechnya to Pakistan to Morocco, since Islamism has always been a fairly popular form of resistance against perceived autocracy.

  2. “……And that’s why we see volunteers streaming in from right across the Muslim world to fight the regime, from Chechnya to Pakistan to Morocco, since Islamism has always been a fairly popular form of resistance against perceived autocracy.”

    Are you please so kind to look to the other side, too to the shia side of the street?
    You could start this look with the same words (it sounds like a beginning of a fairy tale):

    “”And that’s why we see volunteers streaming in from right across the Muslim world to fight for the syrian regime, from Libanon, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, since Islamism has always been a fairly popular form of support of a perceived righteous bloody dictator””

    Will you tell us that 140,000 killed Syrians are died for the question whether there will be soon a Syrian Emanant or a Syrian Caliphate and that enlightenment have been a mistake of history?

    Okay – everything which comes from the big satan is a sin – but how you will answer after the abolition of the internet and I-phones: You will use paper, leather or you will chisel your answer into a stone?

    • You’re arguing against a strawe man that has nothing to do with my argument.

      Firstly, when did I use the term “Big Satan”? I personally think Khomenei was a loudmouthed nutter (no disrespect to his many followers) and I don’t think America is a “great satan”, just that its foreign policy is and has long been terribly messed up.

      As former CIA agent Michael Scheuer has pointed out, most Islamists don’t reject modernity, just some perceivedly foreign values. Even the Taliban insurgency, like the anti-Soviet mujahedin of the 1980s, are using fairly sophisticated technology to launch their campaigns and try to close the gap against the technologically superior NATO force. For my part, I’ve always thought that Western values and Islamic values have a lot in common–I prefer the latter but I don’t begrudge anybody the former. Unlike yourself, I think there are merits both to Islamism and secularism and I don’t begrudge anybody their political leanings.

      Secondly, you seem unable to appreciate the popular support there is for Islamist thought (of various types, it’s by no means a monolithic ideology) throughout the Muslim world. The vast, vast majority of the Syrians who have died against the regime were indeed Islamists, this has been admitted by secular groups themselves (such as opposition leader George Sabra and longtime secular politician Yassin Saleh). This is part of the reason that the Islamists have been given considerable leeway by the secular branches of the opposition. At this moment in time, Islamism is popular in many Muslim countries because secular regimes have failed to deliver security, justice, and because Islamic injunctions have historically been a rallying point. You seem to confuse the term Islamist, which basically signifies a line of government based on Islamic principles and doctrine, with its very small and very loud fringe such as expansionist scum like Al-Qaeda and ISIL. Just a cursory sift through this site, as well as the work of other Western scholars and researchers such as Aron Lund and Charles Lister, would reveal that Islamism in some form is easily the most popular branch–there are even Islamists in the Free Syrian Army’s command structure, such as former deputy commander Abdel-Basit Taweel.

      Secondly, the bit you said about Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran is moot because I already addressed that. Yes the regime, which is secular but not shy of inviting Shia Islamists, is backed by Shia Islamist Iran and Shia Islamist Hezbollah. Nobody ever said otherwise. Those are fairly popular ideologies in parts of the Muslim world, though not, as you erroneously state, in Afghanistan (most Afghan Shia Islamists are currently collaborating with the NATO-installed government) or indeed till recently Iraq, where generally Shia clerics like the Khouis and Sistani had been apolitical, but where the American invasion raised the popularity of Shia Islamists such as Muqtada Sadr. So again, I think you need to address the actual post and not some figment of your imagination where I purportedly railed against some fictional “great satan”.

      With regards to the Enlightenment, by which I guess you mean the 18th century European version, it was a primarily European enlightenment that addressed European problems such as the power of the Catholic church and the bitter rivalry between Catholics asnd Protestants that raged for some centuries. In the Islamic world, thankfully, there is no clergy per se (with the exception of Shia ayatollahs, but that’s an anomaly that doesn’t apply in most of the Muslim world). There are imams, mullahs, etc but their positions are flexible and non-professional as opposed to the professional clergy of Europe’s various Christian denominations. So it is pure arrogance to try and impose a Western enlightenment that was a response to Western problems on a Muslim world that faces vastly different problems that require an indigenous (currently Islamist), not a Western, response.

      I have nothing against secularists or Islamists, I respect both ideologies though in terms of the Muslim world I do prefer the latter. Setting up imaginary scenarios where every Syrian civilian is really just a Westernized secularist at heart is not simply stupid but arrogant as well. It’s simply a fact that at this point in history, Islamism is the most popular ideology in Syria and that “mainstream Islamists”, not westernized secularists, are the most effective opposition to both the Baathists and to the fanatic extremists.

      • Sorry, sometimes it`s necessary to exaggerate in order to determine where someone is coming from.

        1. “” Western values and Islamic values have a lot in common…””
        Which values?

        2. Could you give some examples at what point secular branches of the syrian secular opposition are giving considerable leeway to more islamic groups? It visible ßthat the seculare opposition and Islamic groups are going different directions or seculare groups have pulled back concerning the political discussion. Example: Mikel Kilo is against the military offensive of islamistic groups at Latakia.

        3. Sorry again, misunderstanding, the question was: It always needs two for tango. (I like tango very much – you too?)
        Hezbollah has changed their attitude in syria. According Nasrallah he is fighting Takfiri groups but in truth he is fighting the syrian revolution. What happens in view of this fact in the Islamic world? A split. Shia is fighting against sunni – that`s the sectarian part of the syrian revolution. It`s not about freedom and democrazy – its all about who has the right conception about the koran. It may be that you are underestimating this problem.

        4. “”Enlightenment … the 18th century European version””

        Enlightenment isn`t divisible because it`s not possible to divide enlightenment according cardinal points and enlightenment does not ask for religious beliefs. What counts is the quality of the idea or the genius of invention and the clarity of thought.

        This is the most important point in our little discussion.

        Therefore it would be important to distinguish between universal enlightenment and European historical experience. Enlightenment isn`t explainable without saying that it is influenced by persian, arabic, assyrian and byzantine intellect, too. The quality of the thought was crucial but not the direction from which the thought had come.

        European historical experience was the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) It was one of the most destructive conflicts in European modern history and one of the longest continuous wars. Initially, religion was a motivation for war as Protestant and Catholic states battled it out.

        This war had finished with the “Westphalian sovereignity” – a peace treaty by any religious group was accepting the other one.
        Sometimes it`s practical to look to other countries history. It is not always necessary to burn your fingers yourself.

        But back to the topic – it looks like that the syrian war has forgotten why it has ignited and why syrians are dying. Erdogan
        and Qataris are supporting the muslim brotherhood version of syria , the saudis are surpporting strange islamistic groups because they are fighting against Shiite influence and Hizbollah clearly is fighting against sunni Arabs.

        Don`t you think that the appropriate response would or should have been at least a non-Islamic answer? If not you are inside of an sectarian clash – if you want or not. It is all about how syrians will be governed in the future. Or have I misunderstood something?

        5. Looking around mid east there are a lot of role models. Which one do you prefer – Libya, Tunesia, Algeria, Egypt, Jemen, Bahrain, Libanon, Qatar, Saudiarabia or Iran?

  3. Hi gunniy,

    Thanks for a considered response.

    Regarding the Westphalian treaty and “burning the fingers” (nice phrase), it’s true that many lessons can be learned from Europe in some regards. With regards to this specific field, however, the majority view in the Muslim world (with which I largely agree) is that we were far, far better off–minorities included–under an Islamic form of government, which is generally quite flexible (more so than fanatics like Al Qaeda would ever care to admit) and was vastly different, for instance, in fourteenth century Morocco than in Arabia or Central Asia at the same time–only the same Islamic principles (shariah, but diversely applied in each region according to local situations) and some sense of nominal Muslim solidarity were the same. In my opinion, while many Western technological, scientific, and in some cases philosophical ideas undoubtedly benefited the Muslim world, Western political ideologies simply don’t apply except in very loose terms. The vast majority of conflicts in the medieval Muslim world, for instance, were not scriptural but relatively small-scale political feuds between sultans and emirs, a lot of them confined to the court or to tribal disputes. Ideologies like ethnocentric nationalism (which includes Turkish, Arab, Kurdish, Persian, Pashtun, Tajik, Baloch nationalism) and the superimposition of some foreign laws during the European-dominant colonial age threw the Muslim world back by centuries–while some principles, such as freedom of worship etc, undoubtedly applied, the entire system (secular republics, for instance) did not.

    With regards to appropriate response, I think it largely depends on what the popular consensus in Syria is. Generally Islamism and to some extent left-wing economics are the most popular ideologies in the region at this point. An Islamist system that respects its minorities and maintains political pluralism would be ideal, in my view.

    The last question is interesting. I don’t think there is any hard-and-fast model, but I think Tunisia–where currently there is a healthy competition and even cooperation among Islamist, socialist, and capitalist-type groups–is on the right track, as is modern Turkey. Pakistan, despite its many problems, and Malaysia are also fairly decent. Notwithstanding their monarchic rule, Qatar and Morocco are pretty good too. Islamists tend to appreciate the social conservatism of places like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan but I think it important that Islamic morals not be coerced, as we have seen happen in those places.

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