WASHINGTON—As fierce debate continued this week over a proposed military strike on Syria, President Obama stressed to all Americans Monday that any U.S. involvement in the Middle Eastern country would not in any way mirror the 1456 Ottoman Siege of Belgrade.
“I of course realize that many people around the country are concerned that an intervention in Syria would devolve into another Siege of Belgrade, but I can assure you that this operation will be swift, decisive, and will in no way resemble the Ottoman Empire’s ill-advised invasion of Nándorfehérvár,” Obama told the assembled White House Press Corps. “Our mission in Syria is fundamentally different from that of the Ottomans 550 years ago—there will be absolutely no boots on the ground, the attacks will only last for two or three days at the most, and we will, under no circumstances, be deploying a fleet of 200 galleys and 300 cannons.”
“I can promise you this: My administration and I will not repeat the mistakes of Sultan Mehmed II,” Obama continued. “Believe me, we have all learned the lessons from the campaign to subjugate the Kingdom of Hungary following the fall of Constantinople.”
Obama was reportedly adamant that the United States is not acting on poor or shortsighted intelligence, unlike the 15th-century Turks who underestimated the difficulty in quelling Belgrade’s peasant army. The president also claimed that the current situation in Syria, when closely examined, “barely resembles the fight against St. John of Capistrano and his crusaders when they breached the Ottoman camp.”
Despite the White House’s claims that an American intervention in Syria would, if anything, most likely resemble the Ottoman Empire’s successful 1521 Siege of Belgrade under Sultan Suleiman I, many remained skeptical this week that a U.S. military effort in Syria would not ultimately result in a military disaster on the scale of the 1456 campaign, which left extensive casualties of over 10,000 Hungarians and 50,000 Ottoman soldiers.
“When I heard we were getting involved in Syria, right away I thought, ‘Well, here we go, it’s 1456 Belgrade all over again,’” said Seattle resident Matt Haggerty, 42, who, like millions of Americans, says he “in no way supports the idea” of getting entangled in any military campaign even remotely similar to the Ottoman invasion of the Catholic Balkans. “Look, we all know what happened in Belgrade: Mehmed II thought he had everything under control, but Hungarian nobleman John Hunyadi organized a peasant army of roughly 50,000 soldiers and relied on the strength of the city’s castle to breach the Ottoman’s formidable naval blockade, which prevented any further imperial advances into Europe for roughly 70 years. And frankly, like most of my friends and neighbors, I see very little separating what we’re about to do in Syria and what the Anatolian corps did during their all-out assault on the Belgrade fortress from the Danube River. ”
“I mean, sure, you can argue that the Ottomans eventually took Belgrade in the 16th century and held it successfully for 167 years, but there’s no question that the siege destabilized the empire for half a century,” Haggerty added.
Those who support a unilateral American military strike, however, maintain that the aftermath of Belgrade should be kept separate from the discussion of Syria.
“Regardless of the outcome, when you consider the circumstances and what people knew at the time, the Siege of Belgrade was the right thing to do, and I think the same about our responsibility to intervene in Syria,” said 38-year-old Paterson, NJ resident Ashley Holloway. “After all, Mehmed II was only doing what he thought was in the best interests of the Turkish people, and he genuinely believed that the 1456 siege would ultimately offer the greatest chance of stability to what was unquestionably a troubled region. I trust that Obama, who is no doubt just as conscious of the lessons of Belgrade as the rest of us, will act accordingly.”
“In the end, we simply can’t afford to do nothing,” Holloway added. “Otherwise, we’ll be left with the blood of another Kankali genocide in Bukhara on our hands.”