Syria, Iraq and Turkey: a Slow Cook with Political Repression as a Result of Failed US Policy
The recent finger pointing and recriminations between the US authorities and Russian president Vladimir Putin has made it only too apparent that the US is determined to create “a threat to strategic stability” through its “unfriendly actions” towards Russia.
The US is only too happy to use regional countries to suit its aggressive purposes, as the ever-increasing interference in these countries, which always results in the US having more weapons on the ground, makes clear.
But those countries are also using US support to further their own private ends, without the US being able to do anything about this, (especially) if it wants to keep its broader schemes going.
The ongoing “purge” in Turkey, which in addition to journalists, teachers and judges has now removed 12,000 police officers, is the direct consequence of this wanton US disregard for the people living there. Erdogan is taking advantage of the favoured status the US has given the country to conduct some “realpolitik” of his own, trying to turn this once-secular state into a haven of radical Islamists.
This is contrary to stated US policy, but the US cannot prevent it without destabilising the country, and thus making it more difficult to destabilise Russia, the ultimate goal.
Will the ruling Turkish regime now have to revert to even more “extreme” measures to re-establish the law and order it frequently ignores itself? How far can Turkey go on this independent path before it ceases to be an asset and the whole scheme blows up in America’s face – with equally deleterious consequences for the region?
Method in madness
There is now a paper trail of documents and travel documents which shows that Turkey and its supporters are involved in the support and movement of terrorists. Furthermore, “Turkey’s interior minister said the explosives used in the Istanbul airport attack were a mix of RDX, TNT and PETN that were “manufactured,” and a chemist and explosives expert at the University of Rhode Island, Jimmie Oxley, described them as being military-grade, raising the question of how the attackers obtained the explosives.”
Iraq has voiced concerns that the Turks will try and undermine their upcoming offensive to retake Mosul. Iran is concerned about Turkish support of its local Kurdish population, which continues despite Turkey’s own conduct towards its domestic Kurds.
This is in itself is both a problem and a contradiction: Turkey is treating the Kurds as a commodities to be manipulated at will, supported in one place and repressed in another. The only reason for this is a desire to use them to harm its neighbours and make money in the process.
Aggravating Iran and Iraq through the Kurds may well create further civil discord within Turkey, whose local Kurds will see the difference in their treatment and be supported by their emboldened brethren. But this would probably strengthen Erdogan’s hand further, as he will have further reasons to crack down on opposition and the rest of the world would have more reasons to support him to stabilise the country. NATO probably would not want to have to do this, but if it did Turkey would demonstrate that it was controlling NATO and not the other way around.
In its totality, Turkey’s actions are contrary to being democratic and a fully-fledged NATO member. The Turkish government has worked with Daesh for a long time, and it will be interesting to see how far it will go in that direction now, without anyone caring enough to stop it.
It is clear that Turkey is acting without the full knowledge and approval of NATO and the US, both in Syria and Iraq and at home. Consequently there are grounds for expelling it from NATO. But NATO does not have the will to revoke Turkey’s membership, so it will continue to use NATO funds and facilities to pursue non-NATO goals, as long as there remains a hope that Russia can be damaged by the flow of terrorists and personnel and the growth of Turkey’s economic might.
Whose strings and who is pulling them?
Several on-the-ground sources suggest that the Turkish government is implementing a plan. In this view, Turkey’s rogue actions are not so unprincipled after all.
It is indeed possible that Turkey is acting as the neocons’ relief quarterback for Syria, in defiance of official US policy. The US military-industrial complex has long acted without effective state oversight, but the US state nevertheless has to support its actions to avoid undermining itself.
The neocon element which runs that complex, regardless of the complexion of the US Administration, is using Turkey as a loose cannon so it can do what the US can’t publicly.
As Turkey is deep into the Syrian conflict and has close economic ties with Russia it can move the ball to the territory the pending pipelines will cross. This will increase Turkey’s own importance and give it further means to undermine Russia. This explains US efforts to turn the Syrian ordeal into a full scale shooting war, and the so called “friendly-fire” incidents in Northern Iraq and Iran.
We can recall that the no-fly zone, the necessary precursor for the grander scheme now unfolding in the Middle East, was created by supporting Kurdish freedom fighters in Northern Iraq and blaming their actions on the central government.
For instance, when Dr. Zaher Sahloul addressed the UN at the Arria-Formula Open Meeting on Monday, August 8, 2016 he made exactly the same plea – to introduce a no-fly zone which penalises one side, and enables the other to pursue its schemes without hindrance in the name of humanitarian support.
This speech gained wide coverage for the same reason – the media is using emotional stories to drive US foreign policy, but now in the area the energy pipelines will run through.
As one Syrian expert living in the United States shared with me, “I know this doctor [Sahloul] personally. He is a Muslim Brotherhood member and is sympathetic to the sectarian rebel groups inside Syria, they shouldn’t even be called rebels because what they really are, are terrorists. Dr. Sahloul is the biggest bullshitter and don’t be fooled by his propaganda.”
“Ask yourself this most basic question – what does the Syrian Army and Russia have to gain from bombing innocent children in hospitals? Nothing! The only people who gain anything out of this are the rebels who are purposely shelling and bombing civilians and then blaming it on the government, in order to fool you and gain support from Western nations. They are trying to illicit a military response, or if not that, more arms and funding. Dr. Sahloul’s basic goal is far from innocent; his goal is to have American military intervention in the form of a no-fly zone. He wants more military supplies to aid terrorists in Aleppo. He is also a sympathiser with Jaysh al Fatah, an Idlib-based terror organisation.
“This is a huge scam when thinking about Iraq in proportion, with so many people with so much propaganda. It makes me uncomfortable that they don’t call this person [Dr. Sahloul] on it. No one cares, and Assad offered them the opportunity to go to West Aleppo. The good news here, at least at first impression, is that Russia has tamed the viper.”
Gambling without the odds
It is difficult to draw the line between what Turkey is dong on-message and what it is dong independently. It is difficult to know where to draw the line. So much that is happening can be interpreted either way, or both ways at once, that we have yet to see where either direction will lead, except in the direction of one side or the other taking control of the energy pipelines.
The whole situation in Turkey, both the crackdown and the attempted coup, is a tangled web. Some accounts seem to make sense at first sight, but probably don’t add up to much for that very reason. Some are narratives read like film scripts, and there are many conspiracy theories peppered with variables that cannot be fully grasped or confirmed by public information.
As one Turkish pundit wrote to me as this was going to press:
“As you know I’m in Istanbul. Life here goes on as normal, if you ask me. But the truth is that the lives of tens of thousands are forever changed. The mood with many is one of negativity, pessimism. Anyway, the east of the country is rife with civil war-like circumstances, overrun with refugees. It is not an encouraging picture. But this country has been through many other such periods. It is so unpredictable, Turkey is.”
The US has provided its Turkish ally with so much support precisely because it is unpredictable. The West has always treated Turkey with suspicion for its Islam, martial temperament, and unusual take on democracy etc. This suggests that the “plan” is to allow Turkey to act without plan, knowing that whatever happens, sooner or later, it will [eventually] cause harm to Russia, regardless of the harm it causes others.
A full-blown civil war in Turkey is not beyond the bounds of possibility. Quite apart from the Kurds and other minorities, the Turkish public are split between returning to good old-fashioned secular Kemalism or totally turning their backs on the founding principles of the Turkish State.
But in any such conflict the US would have to intervene on the side of the government, even a radical Islamist one, to protect its own bases and interests from forces who have long asked why the US still supports Erdogan. Having been the only winner of the “coup attempt” he will remain so subsequently, and the only question is how far he will push his advantage.
Very strong envelopes
Erdogan is not exactly trying to be inclusive in his attempts to build a new and more independent Turkey in his own image. The leadership of the opposition HDP are under direct threat. Signs, placards, banners and flags bearing nationalist and statist slogans are flying all over Istanbul. It is incredible how well-organised the AKP and its crew are – within a day all these slogans were plastered all over the place.
He is getting away with this because the coup attempt created a rift between the military and the people, which is greater than the rift between Erdogan and the people. The cleavages created by the coup provide a platform for Erdogan to consolidate the very secular power he is simultaneously trying to undermine by his Islamism. This may well involve reintroducing the death penalty for crimes against the state, but without any distinction between the state and Erdogan himself.
Media outlets have reported that Russia tipped Erdogan off about the coup. If so, this wouldn’t have been to help Erdogan but to make it clear that The Kremlin knew what was really going on. Erdogan mended relations with Russia subsequently, but this too was to show that even the country it is fighting in Syria supports Erdogan and his internal revolution.
In order to capitalise on this he must threaten Russian interests further, to show that his case is so morally right that Russia supports even that. The obvious way of doing that is by continuing Turkey’s involvement in Syria, and supporting terrorists who attack targets in Russia.
Furthermore, if that attempt fails Erdogan could go running to Russia for protection to build himself support as a still-legitimate leader. If the US really was behind the coup, and Erdogan asks Russia to protect him if he really is overthrown, this would make the US the anti-democratic force and strike at the heart of its adventures in the Middle East and the Russian near-abroad. Erdogan’s position has been strengthened so much that he threatens everyone from every possible angle. This would not have happened if the US had been more careful with whom it supported, as the ultimate aim was to put pressurise Russia.
Old trick, new type of card
We recall some of the people the US worked with in its fight against Communism – military dictators who robbed and repressed their citizens and were armed and trained in torture methods by the CIA. Anything was considered acceptable as long as it hurt the enemy. The decline in the US’s global position is the direct result of the hypocrisy of it preaching democracy and human rights on the one hand and depriving its allies and fledgling democracies of them on the other – the US has long lost the moral authority which previously underpinned its relations on the international level.
The US would definitely like to turn the failed coup attempt and its own failed policy in Syria to its advantage, to make a loose cannon out of Turkey, to therefore undermine Russia’s recent gains on the regional and international level.
However, the cannon’s blowback has been mild by comparison of what is to come. The unintended consequences of a US foreign policy out of control may soon have a far great impact for the US itself, domestically, and for the countries of Eastern Europe and the Middle East as a whole.
The military dictatorships in countries like Paraguay were merely indulged. Turkey is now more powerful, and independent of action, than past US-backed dictatorships. Turkey can take advantage of an inflexible Western policy imperative, thus leaving the US with no choice to act. And finally, Assad is going to be with us for some time to come, as he is winning with the backing of the Russians and other regional stakeholders—and this game is yet to be played to the end.
By Henry Kamens
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus.