Op-Ed | Selling Out the Kurds

The essay below was co-authored with Stephan Richter, Editor-in-Chief of The Globalist, where it originally appeared.

A U.S. Air Force Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker from the Ohio Air National Guard at Incirlik, Turkey, August 2003. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Vince Parker.)

A U.S. Air Force Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker from the Ohio Air National Guard at Incirlik, Turkey, August 2003. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Vince Parker.)

To recruit Turkey against ISIS, the United States lost sight of its true friends.

U.S. policy on Iraq, Syria and the surrounding countries seems to have been left solely in the hands of amateurs in the White House. That is not a partisan statement, for it applies to both the current and previous occupants. The next occupant, regardless of party, seems likely to muck it up as well.

The latest foolhardy decision seems to have been a deal long sought by the United States to move the “strategy” against ISIS forward. It is worth recalling that the terrorist organization is de facto an American creation resulting from the completely ill advised Iraq policy under George W. Bush.

In the blinding desire to destroy ISIS, Mr. Obama and his team were so keen on getting rights to use Turkish air bases that they completely forgot about the dark side of Mr. Erdogan.

Erdogan’s other agendas

No sooner had the agreement on bases been reached than Turkey’s own aircraft began pounding Kurdish militant targets in northern Syria and Iraq.

The government, which still lacks a governing mandate after no party won a majority in the recent elections, has officially put the anti-ISIS PKK fighters on the same threat level as ISIS. In reality, Kurdish fighters appear to be a much bigger target of the Turkish Air Force than the ISIS fighters.

The point of all this maneuvering is that Erdogan hopes to leverage wartime fervor into a favorable nationalist coalition or a new election with a better outcome for himself.

As if the U.S. collusion in that domestic, entirely partisan strategy would not be shameful enough, the United States is also pledging to help Erdogan on another matter. He has long sought to clear an ISIS-held area of Syria that is coveted by both Kurdish nationalists and (pro-Erdogan) Ottoman irredentists in Turkey. The latter, it seems, still have yet to accept the country’s 1920s borders.

Hard though it may be to believe, the facts on the ground are as follows: The U.S. military is now helping Turkey’s hardliners achieve their goals against the very Kurdish fighters whose close coordination with U.S. bombers have pushed ISIS back from Kobani and disrupted its supply lines. All the while, Turkey sat on its hands and refused to halt lucrative ISIS smuggling.

Marginalizing the Kurds

In effect, the Americans managed to sell out the Kurds, perhaps Syria’s only remaining true “freedom fighters,” as they proved to be in the defense of Kobani. Read more

Close encounters of the Red October kind

Two fishing boats have been caught on presumed Russian submarines and nearly destroyed. The New York Times:

An 80-ton trawler that normally catches prawn in its nets, the Karen this time seemed to have ensnared a submarine. And, with the British Navy and NATO both denying involvement, suspicion has fallen on Russia, which since the conflict in Ukraine has been testing the response times of the alliance in the air and at sea. The episode, which nearly capsized the Karen, was the second of its kind in a month off the coast of Britain, and comes at a tense time in relations between London and Moscow.
Dick James, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organization, said that the deep stretch of the Irish Sea where the Karen nearly capsized was so popular with submariners during the Cold War that it was nicknamed “submarine alley.”
At the time of the accident, the Karen was in international waters, halfway between the coast of Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.
Being dragged by one wire, the Karen was just seconds from sinking, he said, and his crew would not have had time to grab life jackets.


A separation of one’s own creation

Estonia has — quite vindictively — done an extremely poor job integrating the older generations of its large Russian-speaking population, which has unfortunately left them closely oriented toward Russia.

For example, Estonia could have provided extensive homegrown Russian-language television programming and instead limited it to 15 minutes per day, which left Russian state television across the border to fill the void, enthusiastically, with anti-Estonian propaganda. Younger Russian Estonians, born shortly before or some time after the Soviet breakup, are somewhat better integrated but only by virtue of cultural assimilation out of necessity, which fosters its own kind of resentments.

These failures, not small military strengths, is what has left the Baltic States vulnerable to Russian intimidation and threats.

In related news (pictured above and below), about two weeks ago, the United States rolled a large military convoy with great deliberation 1,100 miles across Poland and 5 other countries, in a show of support to NATO members or a show of force against Russia. NYT:

By the time it is finished, Operation Dragoon Ride, which began a week ago in the Baltics and is due to conclude later this week, will be the longest such movement the United States Army has made across Europe since Gen. George S. Patton diverted his Third Army to relieve Bastogne, Belgium, in 1944.


Operation Dragoon Ride, Eastern/Central Europe, Day 4. (Credit: US Army)

Operation Dragoon Ride, Eastern/Central Europe, Day 4. (Credit: US Army)

Also from Arsenal For Democracy on this topic

“Lithuania reactivates interwar paramilitary”
“Poland readies itself to go deep, if necessary”

Tomb of Suleyman Shah, future casus belli, revisited

Editor’s note, February 22nd, 2015 at 3:25 PM US ET: In a surprise move, Turkey staged a dramatic military operation overnight with 600 troops and 100 tanks/vehicles to evacuate and demolish the tomb site and re-locate the crypt itself to a new site closer to the Turkish border but still apparently inside Syria.

Original Post:
In late September, early in the siege of Kobani, I discussed what might provoke Turkey to participate in the war against ISIS in Syria. One scenario I mentioned — because the Turks have tried to hype it up a lot — was a potential attack on the Tomb of Suleyman Shah, an unusual Turkish territory inside Syria.

[…] if ISIS forces directly attack Turkish troops — a scenario raised again this week by Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc in relation to the Turkish Special Forces stationed at the Tomb of Suleiman Shah in an enclave near Aleppo. The tomb, guarded by Turkey’s military since 1938 under the terms of a 1921 treaty with France, has been repeatedly and publicly identified by ISIS as a target all year. ISIS may have hesitated to attack the Turkish enclave, given that a direct assault might trigger an automatic invasion of Syria by all of NATO, under Article V. Turkey beefed up security at the tomb significantly earlier in the year (rather than withdrawing), but the troops there are reportedly tenuously supplied due to deteriorating local conditions as the Aleppo region becomes the center of fighting between Turkish-backed Syrian Arab rebels, the Syrian government, and ISIS.

You can also hear an audio discussion of the situation from the October 8th, 2014 episode of our radio show.
Turkey’s role in Syria:
Part 3 – Turkey/Syria – AFD 102

Recent Syrian Army efforts to encircle Aleppo completely may also strain the Turkish supply capabilities at the tomb further, but this remains a manufactured problem. Turkey has continued to escalate the tomb situation, either for reasons of national pride or for creating a casus belli (cause for war) that might lead to the de facto partition of Syria with northern Syria under semi-official control of Turkey.

Turkey contested control of that territory, partially successfully, with the French between the world wars, and the tomb was a consolation prize for not getting more. Hardline Turkish irredentists likely still believe that northern Syria rightfully belongs with Turkey.

However, a new Al Jazeera America op-ed argues that it is extremely unlikely that NATO would agree with the Turkish government’s viewpoint on the significance of an attack on the tomb:

[…] Erdogan should not get his hopes up. Invoking Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty is not automatic. Any country which feels it has been the victim of an attack and wants NATO’s assistance must first secure a unanimous vote from all 28 members of the alliance.

Ultimately, invoking Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty is a political decision taken by the elected leaders of each member state.

Turkey is viewed by many in NATO as more of a hindrance than a partner under Erdogan’s leadership. Many in NATO are puzzled as to why Turkey has not played a bigger role in taking on ISIL.

They have also been put off by Erdogan’s crackdown on political dissent, limitations on press freedom, and his drive to bring a more conservative brand of Islam into what is still a largely secular society.

Consequently, in the current political climate it would be inconceivable to believe that all 28 NATO members would vote to invoke Article 5 to defend what many outside Turkey might consider to be a post-imperial anomaly.


Poland readies itself to go deep, if necessary

When your country has been arbitrarily partitioned by its rival neighbors and purported allies at least seven times in the last 250 years, it’s hard not to be pessimistic that it might happen again — and to want to prepare for the worst. According to The Economist, that’s exactly what’s happening in Poland again, in light of Russia’s unexpected invasion and partial annexation of Ukraine:

Now Mr Waszczuk wants to draw on Poland’s history of guerrilla warfare to cope with the challenges of an increasingly unpredictable Russia. “We are the continuation of the Home Army,” he says. The goal is to form light infantry units scattered around the country able to continue the fight “if there is an invasion and the Polish military is destroyed”.
In early December, Poland’s defence ministry approved an upgraded national defence plan that includes an effort to co-ordinate better between the regular military and informal paramilitary outfits. Strzelec counts about 5,000 members; several hundred thousand other Polish civilians, including military re-enactment enthusiasts, are thought to be keen on the programme. The military already aids paramilitary groups with surplus uniforms and training sessions.
“We supposedly had a strong alliance in 1939, and no one came to help us,” says Mr Waszczuk. “Now we’re hearing that Germany is in no shape to help us and that NATO is unclear about sending troops here. In the end, the best defence is to rely on yourself.”

From September 1939 to January 1945, Poland’s armed forces demobilized and reconstituted themselves to exist as the underground, insurgent “Home Army” — Europe’s largest resistance force during World War II until the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia — whose primary directive was to maintain the secret authority of the Polish government-in-exile and continue the functions of the Polish state in daily life (including education) under occupation. They eventually surrendered to the Soviets to avoid a civil war with the communists after the ejection of the Germans.

Flag of Poland's Home Army during World War II. (Credit: Bastianow - Wikimedia)

Flag of Poland’s Home Army during World War II. (Credit: Bastianow – Wikimedia)

The Incomprehensible David Cameron

David Cameron must have actually lost his mind. In the middle of all the sanctions, he just loaned one of the Elgin Marbles to Russia, further infuriating Greece (from whom they were originally, famously stolen) after Greece loyally backed up the rest of the European Union (and NATO) on anti-Russia policies this year.

It’s one thing to petulantly insist on keeping the British Museum’s stolen artifacts from the Parthenon. It’s quite another to loan them out to an active enemy country in a taunt to one’s ally.

Surviving figures from the East Pediment of the Parthenon, exhibited as part of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum. (Credit: Andrew Dunn)

Surviving figures from the East Pediment of the Parthenon, exhibited as part of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum. (Credit: Andrew Dunn)

Turkey OKs, then cancels air base for coalition Syria strikes [Updated]

[Note: This article is from October 2014. For July 2015 news and maps about this topic, see here.]

Amid mounting pressure from the Obama Administration, the Turkish government appeared briefly to have decided to allow the famous Incirlik Air Base near Adana, Turkey, to be used for coalition bombing of ISIS positions in Syria.

Map of Turkey's Incirlik Air Base relative to Kobani, Raqqa, Mosul, and Erbil. (Adapted from Wikimedia)

Map of Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base relative to Kobani, Raqqa, Mosul, and Erbil. (Adapted from Wikipedia)

Such a decision would allow the U.S.-led mini-coalition on Syria, which had been flying from air bases and ships in Bahrain and the Persian Gulf, to dramatically shorten both the overall flight time of bombing runs to Syria (particularly northern Syria), but it would also mean the distance flown over hostile airspace specifically is significantly shorter. Airstrike missions to the embattled Syrian border town of Kobani, for example, could be flown almost entirely through friendly airspace until the final moments.

The bases would also be used for air operations in northern and western Iraq by the much larger coalition that includes several other NATO members and Australia, all of whom did not feel comfortable intervening in Syria without a UN resolution or government request for assistance.

Update: Hours later, Turkey’s government denied any deal on air bases had been reached and insisted that the old demands regarding a wider intervention in Syria were still on the table.

A day after American officials said Turkey had agreed to allow its air bases for operations against the Islamic State, which they described as a deal that represented a breakthrough in tense negotiations, Turkish officials on Monday said there was no deal yet, and that talks were still underway.

The Turkish comments represented another miscommunication between the United States and its longtime ally Turkey, as President Obama pushes to strengthen an international coalition against the militants that control a large area of both Syria and Iraq, by securing a greater role for Turkey.

The Turks have insisted that any broad support for the coalition is dependent on the mission’s going beyond just the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL, to also target the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, which Turkey has long opposed and blames for creating the conditions that led to the rise of the extremists within Syria and Iraq.

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