Turkey looks now like the unsteady fulcrum of an unsteady Eurasia. Erdogan’s surprising AKP “restoration” to single party rule, has imposed an iron cage around the opposition, attempting vainly to give the impression of strength and stability. But the country remains highly unstable and divided between entrenching divisions and different interests, both domestically and in its foreign policy.
I was shocked and crestfallen by the election results, which stink any way you interpret it. At a best case scenario, Erdogan used classic rhetoric of violence and difference that has ever ignited conflagrations of fear (and perhaps terror) across Turkey and its neighboring Iraq and Syria, and sent a flood of refugees directed towards Europe.
Though autocratic rule may constrain the Turkish media to convey an impression that patriotic unity is the reason for the AKP’s surprise victory, and that all others are “terrorists” planning coups, the governing majority is a thin one, weak in legitimacy, and the Turkish opposition is no more likely than the Kurds to quiet their voices for Erdogan’s benefit. The political turmoil inside Turkey is exacerbating the storms in the regions around it, in Syria and Iraq for some time, and now in Europe where the refugees are bound, in part through Turkish direction. Of course, Turkey cannot be held fully responsible for the problems of the wider region, at least no more than other members of the ambivalent US-led “anti-ISIS” coalition.
Now, as Turkey prepares to host the G-20 this weekend in Antalya, the EU has promised Turkey 3 billion Euros to stem the tide a bit. No one, as far as I have seen, gives a credible explanation as to the sudden flood of refugees pouring into Europe, when Turkey has been holding 2 million for nearly two years. Now, following the Paris attacks, the media believes that all of them are ISIS. In fact, for the US taxpayer, “nous sommes ISIS.”
I will leave Paris aside for the moment, awaiting the drip-drops of information and disinformation as they come, and postponing the ‘cui bono’ speculation about that member of the ambivalent alliance most likely responsible for the obviously well-orchestrated operation. Past experience suggests ISIS does not operate without coordination from its big daddies.
Now Erdogan can play petty despot. Let us not kid ourselves, this is no Sultan, this is no Ottoman, this man, many argue, is no real Muslim, but certainly he may be one of a number of pretenders to the CIAliphate. By the looks of it, he may be a jilted pretender, since the US seems so intent upon backing the Kurds, and Gulen, by several accounts another CIA asset, has turned against him. But Turko-US friction is not new, and friction between “ambivalent alliance” members is the rule rather than the exception nowadays.
As usual, great ambiguity lies over the every action of this so-called “anti-ISIS” coalition, but the US and Turkey remain united in regard to their opposition to Assad and the Russian campaigns in Syria, as well as the general way they seem to be assessing a response. There is talk again of establishing a no-fly zone, with Turkish and US F-15s flown out of Incirlik. Neo-cons hope the 50 US SpecOps troops now off to Syria are but the first turn of the spigot for the ground troops which are really necessary to enforce a “buffer zone.” Turkey too has said it could commit land troops, but only if others did the same. France will now be on board. Still, plentiful problems confront the coalition now that Syrian forces along with their Russian and Iranian help, take the initiative. And there remain distinct differences between Turkish and US interests. This is suggested by the criticism in the mass media here, and from parts of the US foreign policy elite about Erdogan’s hate-mongering electioneering, his implied support for Syrian terror groups, and his Kurdish policies in general.
The press in Turkey took a greater beating after the elections even than before. It is sad to see. Hurriyet has been muzzled. TodaysZaman, a Gulen-outpost, is the most active English-language voice of the opposition. It calls on G-20 members meeting this weekend in Antalya to reprimand Erdogan for its crackdown on the press, and the EU has already publically criticized the Turkish government.
There is no need to continue further with the sad story of Erdogan’s dictatorial takeover in Turkey. The question to be considered now is what he will do with the proxy terrorist armies he partly controls in Syria, and elsewhere, whose strings, in this jumbled puppet show, are pulled by several “allies” as well. The nefarious web of entwined Turkish MIT and US CIA strings, spread far and wide, through Iraq and Syria to be sure, as well as across Central Asia. These were founded on outposts claimed by NGOs as Western powers, not just NATO, undertook to de-stabilize and lay effective claim to large swaths of the post-Soviet world. 21st century Turko-US shenanigans in the Central Asian “republics” and in Chinese Turkestan, Xinjiang, plainly resembles US-Saudi/Wahhabi tactics and policy to undermine the Balkans in the 1990s.
The US never stopped fighting that war against Russia. Even as Reagan was promising Gorbachev that NATO would not expand, the “loonies” in the White House basement, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and other halcyon luminaries of neo-conservatism, were planning their all-out assault on a prostrated, and asset-stripped Russia and its former satellites. The same game, at least on the US side, continues today. Turkey seems all on board with it by the sound of Erdogan’s CNN interview, in which his Russophobic persecution complex had moments of FoxNews-worthy vitriol.
In his interview for an American audience, Erdogan was extremely harsh in Russia’s regard, just what they want to hear hier bei Uns. The Turks seem to itch for a no-fly zone, much like US neo-cons. They consider one not only in the north, but in the south of Syria. The neo-cons are arguably still on the resurgence, but all war parties continue to operate within bounds so as not to provoke Russia overtly. Most recognize the square has been taken, or the western urban corridors, anyway. (Covertly, thats another matter; challenges continue. Israel, that’s another matter, too: it followed up its Mount Lebanon raids on Hezbollah positions last week with repeated attacks on the Damascus airport in the last days.) Perhaps Erdogan’s foreign policy will be cooler-headed now that his petty despotate is no longer threatened internally. Or perhaps not.
Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT), has condemned Russia for fighting Islam in Syria, and has gone on to ask the West to accept ISIS as a fait accompli in Syria. In a not-so-remarkable meeting of the minds, neo-con “think” tanks like the CFR would argue, that ISIS media powers are so immense we might as well roll over dead in their path. “Who needs an air force when you control the airwaves!”
Sharp memories may recall that Fidan was implicated in the 2014 leak that revealed Turkish planning for a “false flag” attack in Syria, perhaps on the venerated (not-so-much, evidently) tomb of Suleyman Shah, (d. 1236) grandfather of Osman, founder of the Ottoman dynasty. This involved a conversation between Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, and foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, now PM, as well as then Undersecretary, now Minister, of Foreign Affairs, Feridun Sinirlioglu, and also Deputy Chief of General Staff, Yaşar Gürel. US papers were respectfully close-lipped about the episode, or rather about the contents of the leak, which closed down Turkish youtube accounts for some time.
In his CNN interview, Erdogan argued that the PKK and its Syrian Kurdish affiliates are not redeemed by the fact that they are fighting ISIS, but they are terrorists themselves. He asked if we should befriend al-Nusra just because they are fighting ISIS. Good question. In fact, Turkey removed al-Nusra from their terror lists in 2014, and has been feeding them arms and supplies non-stop ever since.
Erdogan has said he will press the issue of terrorism and refugees at the G-20 summit this weekend. ISIS and the Kurds are all the same, he will argue. World! he will declare, We must stand united against the Rojava Republic! In the backrooms he will contradict his argument, arguing that we should ally with ISIS against the Kurds.
But this is precisely where US and Turkish interests most clash. Sure the US is great friends with ISIS too. However, the US also has made a habit of cultivating Kurdish “friendship” outside of Turkey, especially with the Barzani regime in Erbil, and now with the YPG in Syria. Hopefully the Kurds remember the US also knowingly supplied Saddam with the weapons to gas them. The ambivalent ‘anti-ISIS’ alliance, never fully united, has fractured even more in the re-positioning required after the Russian and Iranian move into Syria.
Since several endgames seem to have been circulating in neo-con circles, from simple takeover to endless chaos, there remain several fall-back options. In particular, it seems that the current favorite, to carve out some ‘no-fly’ zones, is the tactic of the “de-construct” Syria strategy last formalized in an oft-cited Brookings Institute paper by Michael O’Hanlon. “Cutting the patient in a million pieces” is what this doc recommends.
A no-fly zone effectively means to appropriate sovereignty in a region, perhaps to dish it out to proxies, perhaps to keep it for the private armies of Bechtel and Carlyle. But Ankara wants its piece of the pie, and so does Riyad. Israel still wants the whole pie. In this way, spats between allies have likely hindered their ambivalent progress. We may hope their plans will not get very far off the ground, and indeed, in the last few days, the Russo-Irano-Syrian coalition has scored a notable success, relieving the long siege of the Kuweires airport east of Aleppo. They have not entirely liberated Aleppo, but are making steady progress.
I surmise that there are elements in the Obama administration that have held back the most warhungry hawks in Congress and the military. These are not doves by any means, but more rational minds. In fact, Erdogan’s Turkish pronouncements have been somewhat more measured than his CNN commentary. At least official Turkish discourse has balanced other considerations. In fact, matters are much more complicated: Turkey has steadily expanding trade with Russia, and this is deeply profitable to both sides.
This consideration holds the Turks back from engaging in anything more than a mostly covert war of attrition against the Syrian aligned forces. Erdogan, it should be remembered oversaw the vast expansion of rapacious neo-liberal economic policies in Turkey under the smoke screen granted by his opening of “Islamic banks.” As a result, the banking and business industries in Turkey, like those in Germany, know how desperately they are dependent on Russia.
Over the last decade, Turkey and Russia have become great trading partners, and this is set to skyrocket in the next decade. Even though Turkey seems to have thumbed its nose, or rather back-burner’d the Turkstream offering of Russian gas, it has not abandoned the project. (It is obvious the US would not have stood for Turkey signing on). Putin has not yet withdrawn the offer, so it seems all sides are aware of what they stand to lose if matters deteriorate. Except those nasty little fly-bys in the first week of Russian airstrikes, Putin, for one, is displaying great public patience in Turkey’s regard. As one commentator observed, Putin called Erdogan immediately following the elections while Obama waited more than a week.
For such reasons, several commentators are reading the situation after Turkish elections as more hopefully than before, since Turkish elite business interests must cooperate with Russia, and the Turkish military are smart enough to see they cannot confront them, at least on their own, and overtly. But Russia and Turkey remain quite at loggerheads about Syria; and the US has issues with both sides, however much they all may smile and nod in Vienna, agreeing they all hate terrorism.