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Friday, October 10, 2014

What's Up With The Republic Of Turkey Nowadays?

Links: War Moves Into Turkey

Wikipedia On Turkey

Where have you been, Turkey?  Every few days I am obliged to create a post about the struggle against the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIS, ISIL or IS); bad news seldom takes a holiday.  How did we get to this place?  Following the ritualistic beheading of two Americans, President Obama announced that the United States was taking military action against IS targets in Iraq and Syria.  Obama added that the United States would, under no circumstances, introduce ground forces into the conflict.  Instead, the U.S. Air Force would bomb the IS into the Stone Age.  For good measure, we are training and arming a surrogate army to finish off the IS with a ground campaign (but not for four, maybe five months because that's how long it takes to train and equip a surrogate army in 2014).  The surrogate element identifies itself as the "Free Syrian Army", and consists of many Syrian Army former officers and front-line troops.  President Obama was able to enlist France, The United Kingdom, and the Arab Gulf monarchies to join his "Coalition of the Unwilling to use Ground Troops", but some enormously important questions remain unanswered.  What will the Free Syrian Army do after the IS has been defeated?  Will it turn its weapons on the regular Syrian Army, which is heavily supported by Vladimir Putin and Russia?  What about all the other groups the Administration has parade by during press conferences (Al-Nusra Front, Khorasan, Al-Qaeda)?  Are they also targets of the Free Syrian Army? And if not, how does the IS tell them apart?

To repeat myself, where are you, Turkey?  The Turks share a southern border with both Iraq and Syria.  (A large part of that geographical piece is considered by the Kurds to be part of Kurdistan).  For centuries, back to the years of the Ottoman Empire, the Turks and the Kurds have struggled for control of this part of the world (since its not Asia Minor, and its not really Mesopotamia, I will just refer to it as "Asia Minopotamia").  Some of the blackest pages in Turkey's personal history book have to do with Kurdistan.  On more than a few occasions over the past two centuries, the Turks have committed acts of genocide against the Kurds.  I realize that by saying this, I royally piss off a number of very close Turkish friends, but it is my interpretation of history; believe me, I wish it weren't so.  The Kurds have always been a thorn in Turkey's side, and when historically bad famines and droughts hit Turkey, the Kurds were last to receive help.  I won't spend anymore time on the subject, especially since there is so much open source material available.  Fast forward to 2014, the Kurds are fighting for their lives not against the Turks or famine, or even Saddam Hussein, but against the IS.  At present, its not really possible to draw a static map of who-occupies-what.  The Kurds are in possession of some territory in northern Syria, but the main theater of war at the moment is in Iraq.  In the north, the Kurds are fighting the IS, and the central part of Iraq, the Iraqi Army and Shia Brigades are opposing the IS.  Back in Syria, the regular Syrian Army continues to occasionally engage IS forces.  For the time being, though, all eyes seem to be on very north central Syria and the town of Kobani.

At times I find it difficult to accept that Syria and Turkey share such a continuous, strategic border. For many centuries, the border did not exist, as Syria and Turkey were both part of the Ottoman Empire.  Now, for all practical purposes, the border separates wealth from poverty, Europe from the Levant, and West from East.  I know many will disagree, and argue (effectively, I'm sure) that Asia Minor is not Europe and that Turkey is not a first-world country.  I make my call through personal experience.  I was obsessed with Turkey in my younger days, and loved every chance I had to visit.  The Turks are a friendly, proud people; you will rarely see beggars or hungry children in Turkey.  But the Turkey of my youth is disappearing.  Secular Turkey (with its handful of generals ready to take charge if the civilians get too ambitious) has seen a rise in Islamist political activities and a movement to strengthen Turkey's Islamic cultural heritage and traditions.  President Recep Erdogan, who was elected in August 2014 with a 51% to 38% margin over his nearest competitor, is not fan of the Army.  During the later half of the last century, the Turkish military did not hesitate to remove elected leaders at the slightest sign of movement away from secularism.  I believe Erdogan is too popular for the military to act against, so I just keep my fingers crossed that he doesn't allow Turkey to suffer an Islamic revolution like the one that swallowed Iran in 1979.

Regarding the situation in Syria and Iraq, where does Turkey stand?  One thing to keep in mind: Turkey has a FORMIDABLE Armed Forces.  There was a time when Turkey was only interested in keeping an army larger than Greece's, but membership in NATO changed everything.  For all practical purposes, Turkey's military was created, nursed and raised to adulthood by the United States military.  Because of the all-important NATO missile sites located in Turkey (and aimed at Russia, I believe, although there may be one aimed at the Eifel Tower), The United States was more than willing to train and equip the Turkish Army.  Roughly 15 years ago, the Turkish military took the surprising step of conducting joint operations with Israel (the advent of Erdogan has cooled relations between Ankara and Jerusalem).  In equipment, size, and readiness, I believe that the Turkish military is en par with France, the UK and Germany (Greece who?).  Where does Turkey stand?  Why haven't the Turks taken a stand against the IS, which is about as nasty a group as there is?  Allegedly, Erdogan offered to join the Coalition and use the Turkish Army if Obama would guarantee the removal of Assad in Damascus.  Obama does not have the testicular fortitude for such a call, which would piss off Putin to no end.  At the moment, Turkey sees no strategy that benefits Turkey, with the exception of waiting until the dust settles.  If Turkey mobilizes, they would sweep the IS from the face of the earth in a matter of days (Turkish Special Forces....Bad Ass).

 But what good does that do if Assad, the thorn in Turkey's backside, stays in power?  Maybe Erdogan is thinking that an IS government in Damascus is preferable to the Ba'athists and Assad?  Wouldn't that be something...Turkey joins the conflict ON THE SIDE of the IS!  Its just a thought; it can't happen.  Turkey is a functioning Democracy with a Tiger of an economy (which is headed for a fall, say many forecasters...hope not), a thriving tourist industry and a military that would make Suleyman the Magnificent jealous.  An on its southern border Turkey nurses two recurring boils; Kurdistan and the civil war in Syria.  Although Erdogan has been willing to snuggle up to the Kurds for political expediency, I don't think he feels compelled to resolve the issue of Kurdistan at the moment.  Besides, the Kurds have proven to be reasonable.  The IS conflict, though, threatens to spill over into Turkey proper (not to mention the steady flow of refugees).  Surprisingly, the Turks have yet to really mobilize militarily.  What would happen if one of the combatants (count 'em again, folks: Al-Nusra Front, IS, Khorasan, Kurds, regular Syrian Army, and the free Syrian Army) began using Turkish territory as a staging point for military operations?  Unfortunately, I don't see Erdogan acting proactively in this situation.  He is content to let the circumstances come to him.

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