Tony Badran reports that Hillary Clinton shot down Ahmet Davutoğlu’s entreaties last month to get tougher with Syria, including the creation of a buffer zone. According to Badran, Clinton told the FM that the U.S. is “not there” on proactively pushing Assad to go, and that Turkey is seeking to take stronger action against Syria but will not do so without U.S. backing. Badran and I had a Twitter exchange today where I asked him if he thought that Turkey actually wants to establish a buffer zone or whether this is a smart leak on Turkey’s part to create the appearance of wanting to do more on Syria, and Badran said that his focus is not on what Turkey is doing but what his reporting says about the Obama administration.
Unlike Badran, I am keenly interested in the Turkish side of this. To be blunt, I think that this is a textbook example of the Turkish version of hasbara. There is no way that Turkey is contemplating in any serious way creating a buffer zone across the Syrian border. The fighting with the PKK over the past few days and reports of Assad’s embrace of the PKK now that he feels abandoned by Erdoğan drives this point home even further. The Turkish government has gotten lots of favorable press since suggesting that they were considering the possibility in an effort to help Syrian refugees, but they almost immediately walked back the suggestion after floating it so that the calls for doing so would not get out of hand. The leaked information that they asked the U.S. for cover to do so a month ago is part and parcel of the government’s effort to make it look like they desperately want to do more on Syria but are being prevented by the U.S. or the U.N. This way Turkey gets credit for taking a tougher line on Assad without having to actually risk anything. This is not meant to be a criticism of Turkey, as all governments want to look good without having to get into messy entanglements, and kudos to Davutoğlu for deftly managing Turkey’s image while simultaneously safeguarding its interests. Reports like Badran’s, however, are best taken with a grain of salt. With all the recent sniping between Andrew Sullivan and Jeffrey Goldberg over whether Goldberg was used by the Israeli government, I suspect that Badran is unwittingly being used by the Turkish Foreign Ministry to push a narrative that portrays Turkey in a particularly favorable light.