PRINCETON – As the world watches the obliteration of the Syrian city of Homs and the crisis spills into neighboring Lebanon, it is time to ask what separates great powers from small powers. Turkey’s international star has risen steadily over the past few years, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan being lionized in many Middle Eastern and North African countries, and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu traveling the world as the representative of an increasingly influential power. Indeed, Turkey and Indonesia have joined the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) on the list of the most important rising global players.
Now, in Syria’s carnage, Turkey is facing a critical test of its regional and global aspirations. It is time for its leaders to stop talking and start acting.
Davutoğlu first raised the idea of establishing a buffer zone for the Syrian opposition on the Syrian-Turkish border three months ago, when the Syrian death toll was roughly half of what it is now. By mid-November, Erdoğan was the second regional leader (after Jordan’s King Abdullah) openly to call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. At the end of November, Davutoğlu again confirmed that the Turkish government was mooting various relief plans, including the possibility of a buffer zone.
Yet the only real action since then has come not from Turkey, but from the Arab League, which sent in monitors and formulated a plan for a political transition in Syria. After Russia and China vetoed that plan at the United Nations, and with Syrian forces around Homs (and Zabadani) giving every indication that they intend to flatten everything in their path, Davutoğlu proposed holding a conference “as soon as possible” to “promote international understanding with all countries concerned.”