True, Turkey initially inspired admiration in the West – and Arab world – for its early embrace of the democratic revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. But it misjudged Libya, where it had strong business ties, by initially rejecting sanctions and even opposing NATO’s involvement, before ultimately changing course.
And Turkey’s bellicosity toward former friend Israel stood in stark contrast to its silence with Iran and Syria as they buried their citizens’ demands for democracy.
But Ankara’s 180-degree turn with Damascus marks a decisive break from its “zero problems” policy.
In 2002, Turkey had invested more diplomatically and economically in Syria than in any of its neighbors. This transformed its relationship from one of military confrontation rooted in cold-war geopolitics and Syria’s support for separatist Kurdish terrorists in Turkey, to one of economic cooperation. Turkey's ties to Syria became a model for rapprochement that Ankara then applied to other problematic neighbors such as Greece and Iraq.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is known for valuing loyalty. True to his word, he stuck by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad longer than any other Western friend – to the point of risking his own credibility in the transatlantic community. Following a similar pattern in Libya, he tried to play the role of mediator and empathetic friend until it became painfully clear that Damascus was no longer listening.