The Not-So-Willing: Turkey and Qatar
These two Sunni Muslim countries could be of immense help in weakening IS … if they were prepared to give it their all. The Turks could be better controlling their long border with Syria, monitoring and intercepting foreign fighters, and preventing weapons and assistance from making their way to jihadist forces. And they might be able to help staunch IS’s illegal oil sales through Turkish brokers and prevent additional recruits to what are estimated to be 1,000 Turkish citizens who have joined the jihadi ranks in Syria. To be fair to the Turks, they are already engaged in doing some of this, including allowing the United States to use Incirlik Air Base to quietly fly surveillance drones over Iraq and facilitate humanitarian assistance to Syria. The idea that the United States could use the base for active combat missions or stage high-profile operations out of Turkey for attacks against IS in Syria, though, has so far been a bridge too far.
There are many reasons Turkey will at best be a backseat driver in the coalition. Erdogan’s conservative Sunni base is opposed to a lead role; the president is worried that arms delivered to the Peshmerga might end up in the hands of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and thus increase the militant group’s leverage in the so-called peace process. And then there are those 49 Turkish diplomats IS has taken hostage in Mosul. Ankara’s “zero problems” foreign policy might not be a raging success, but trying to be friends with everyone in the region — particularly the Islamists — is a clear constraint. There is also a very real fear that a lead role in striking IS could make Turkey a direct target of terrorist attacks. Paradoxically, it was the fear of internal blowback that prevented Erdogan from playing a stronger role against Assad as the Syrian dictator oppressed and killed scores of thousands of fellow Syrian Sunnis. The fact is that the administration will take what it can get from the risk-averse Turks. And right now, there isn’t all that much there.