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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Turkey, Where Do You Stand?

Links: A. U.S. Sailors Attacked In Turkey
           B. Erdogan Cleans Out The Turkish General Staff

The diplomatic mess that has been created by our semi-military entry into the Syrian conflict is something to behold.  The main reason we are mired in this mess is because we do not have a clear policy in the region.  Turkey is a beast to try and understand politically.
Tayyip Erdogan,
President of Turkey
Internally, President Tayyip Erdogan has won the battle with the military and no longer has to sweat under the constant fear of a coup.  There can be no doubt that Erdogan is the driving force behind the slow, methodical creep of Turkey towards Islamization.  Erdogan gained the respect of European liberals when he apologized for the Armenian massacres of the past, and in 2009, it appeared that Turkey might actually be prepared to co-exist with a Kurdish nation.  But understanding the reality of Turko-politics requires an almost day-to-day study of the subject matter.  Simply put, Turkey is interested in developing a relationship with a Kurdish group that has access to Iraqi/Kurdish oil.  Turkey will pretend to support the idea of Kurdish statehood as long as it has access to Kurdish oil.  Once things start to get serious, Turkey switches allegiances to another Kurdish political group and the process starts all over.  If allowed, the Turks will play this game all day.  The reality is, Ankara will never agree to the creation of a legitimate Kurdish state that shares a border with Turkey.  The Turks have absolutely no good will towards the Kurdish people and they never will.  Additionally, Erdogan is determined to see Syria's Bashir al-Assad removed from power.  The whispers that Turkey secretly supports the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL) probably has more to do with Erdogan's hatred of Assad than anything else.  I have no clue what Erdogan's long-term strategy is towards the Kurds, although he has made his economic interest quite clear.  And something I do know: Erdogan wants out from under Gazprom (Russian natural gas exporter) and Vladimir Putin's finger.

In 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq, Turkey made its position clear by limiting the use of our own Air Force Bases (albeit in Turkey).  At the time, President George W. Bush, who could be supremely naïve at times, assumed that Erdogan wanted to support the U.S. efforts, but couldn't because of internal issues.  Bullshit.  Erdogan was sending the message that "business as usual" was no longer the acceptable.  Erdogan does not want Turkey to be allied to the United States.  In fact, I don't think Erdogan wants EU membership.   Has anyone noticed that Erdogan played the same, "well, I can't be Prime Minister anymore, so I might as well be President" game that Putin invented?  Erdogan sees himself as a latter-day Sultan, who will usher in a new age of international Turkish power and influence.  He sees Turkey as being ideally situated to lead a group of moderate
Islamic states into the next century.  What makes Erdogan so dangerous is the size and strength of the Turkish military (built by the U.S.).  For many years, the Turks were solely interested in keeping abreast militarily of their historic enemy, Greece.  Turkey always needed one more Frigate, one more F-16 squadron,  or one more tank batallion, than Greece.  The times have changed.  Turkey became a huge customer of U.S. military equipment (some of which arrived as part of aid packages); and the U.S. military always obliges when a friend requests training.  The United States has equipped and trained the Turkish military, which is now one of the world's elite.  Behind the scenes, the U.S. was always happy to provide whatever the Turks wanted, because we thought we were feeding the "safety valve": the Turkish General Staff.  When Erdogan and his AKP party took power, the Pentagon whispered, "as soon as he starts preaching Islamic mumbo-jumbo, the Army will have him under arrest".  However, Tayyip was smarter than the crusty old birds at the Pentagon.  He played the role of moderate reformer, until he was in a position to stage a reverse-coup (see the second link).  The four top Generals who bit the dust, I mean "resigned", were examples of Turkey's move away from the threat of military intervention in civilian politics.  But it left the Pentagon asking, "who is driving that expensive Turkish Lamborghini that we've spent decades paying for?"

I have always loved Turkey and the Turks.  Istanbul is an amazing place full of mystery, intrigue and danger.  And once you get out of the city and into the countryside, you will never find a friendlier, more generous people than the Turks.  If you don't believe me, then take a trip to Turkey yourself . . . but hurry.  I remember as a young boy going to the Judson 4 Drive-In Theater with my family, and watching the movie "Midnight Express" (not a kids movie for sure, but my parents had to get some culture sometime).  After seeing this movie, I remember that being frightened out of my wits by all things "Turkish".  The film did a tremendous disservice to the Turkish nation and to this day still causes bad feelings.  The truth is, the young American Billy Hayes got caught trying to board a Pan Am flight to New York with a load of Hashish taped to his stomach.  Turkey felt the need to make an example out of Hayes, and the rest is history.  For the record, Hayes has since apologized to the Turkish people for the negative image of Turkey that his book encouraged.  The new Turkey, though, has negative emotions about the United States that have nothing to do with a 1970's movie.  Turkey has taken a decided step towards Islamization.  Although Erdogan has driven the chariot, the entire blame for this movement can't be laid on him.  For some reason, the Turkish people, who for so many years proudly embraced the secular legacy of Kemal Ataturk, started looking towards their Islamic heritage for direction.  At the same time, a smaller, less influential movement is encouraging young Turks to embrace the image of Turkey as a political leader of nations, not tied to any religious ideology or diplomatic obligations.  It was supporters of this perspective who, this week, attacked the three U.S. sailors dressed in their civilian clothes and who were hoping to do a bit of sightseeing on their day of leave.  This attack, which was videotaped, is very disturbing if only for the fear you can imagine these young men must have been feeling.  As I have pointed out ad nauseam: we currently have no influence diplomatically anywhere in the world.  So it came as no surprise that the Turkish authorities simply released the persons responsible for this assault.  Oh, I yearn for the days of Ronald Reagan, when these punks would have been hung out to dry.

So this is the Turkey of 2014.  Lumbering towards Islamization, no longer an ally of the United States, hostile to the Kurds, the Israelis, Assad, and the Iraqi government (is the Iraqi government still there?  I haven't checked yet today), and brandishing a military that
Mehmet II, Ottoman Sultan
1441-1446, 1451-1481
would make Mehmet II proud.  Recently, I had a Turkish friend of mine ask me to explain the United States policy regarding Syria, Iraq and the ISIL.  All I could say is that we have collected a few Qatari and Emirati friends, and alongside our Air Force, we are in the process of bombing the shit out of the ISIL.  Oh, and we are also training the Free Syrian Army to be defensive when the time comes.  In other words, I had no answer.  True that I'm no fan of the current administration, but as an American I wish I could have given a better response.  What really frightens me is that Joe Biden is heading to Ankara for talks with Erdogan, after recently insulting Erdogan and having to issue an apology.  Erdogan must be salivating, waiting for this opportunity to embarrass this ASS of a Vice President.  How did we end up with such amateurs in the White House?  Eventually, something is going to give.  Either the ISIL is going to sack Baghdad, or Assad is going to retake the initiative militarily and piss off the Turks to no end (then it will be our fault for degrading ISIL).  Hey, at least it won't be boring.     

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