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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – May 1, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Interior of the Oculus, NYC – photo by Timothy A. Clary

On Saturday, Wrongo scoffed at David Brooks, who said that Donald Trump’s foreign policy moves:

…have been, if anything, kind of normal…

Another part of US foreign policy that is FAR from normal is our effort to square the circle between our NATO ally Turkey, and our Kurdish allies in Syria and Iraq, who are fighting with us to eliminate ISIS as a force in Syria.

Last Tuesday, Turkey triggered a crisis when it launched airstrikes on US-backed YPG Kurdish fighters. The YPG is a Syrian sister organization of the Kurdish PKK Party in Turkey. Turkey believes the YPG and the PKK are terrorist groups whose goal is to destabilize Turkey.

Within Syria, US Special Forces are embedded with the YPG and are coordinating YPG’s moves against ISIS around Raqqa. The Turkish airstrikes killed at least 18 people, destroying the group’s headquarters. The airstrikes triggered heavy artillery and mortar exchanges between Turkish troops and Kurdish forces along the border, raising concerns that Turkey might send its forces into Syria, something the US opposes.

The YPG wants to divert forces from the attack on Raqqa to protect against further Turkish adventures, something the US doesn’t want. Now we learn that the US has placed some of its very limited military resources in Syria between the Turks and the Kurds in an effort to calm the hostilities. From the WSJ:

American forces have started patrolling the Turkey-Syria border to prevent further clashes between Turkish troops and Kurdish fighters, which could undermine the fight against Islamic State, U.S. officials said Friday.

This is the second time we had to break up the fight between the Turks and the Kurds in Syria. We made a similar move last month in Manbij, a northern Syrian town at the epicenter of a fight between Kurdish forces, Syrian government troops and Turkish-backed militants.

We have become our own UN-style peacekeeping force between Turkey and our Kurdish allies in the midst of our very real effort to take Raqqa from ISIS.

So, where are we going with Turkey, the Kurds and Syria? In the ME, the Kurds are one of the few groups the US can trust to perform militarily. They have fought alongside our troops in this region for years. In the past, we have sold them out in favor of Iraqi and Turkish geopolitical desires more than once.

OTOH, Turkey is a NATO ally, one who is the enemy of our Kurdish allies. We have several Airbases in Turkey which help with the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. If the Turks asked us to leave, our military effectiveness in the ME would be seriously weakened.

More than 25 million Kurds live in the region straddling the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. They are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the ME, but they do not have a permanent nation-state. The Kurds can see that a state could be created from the NE portion of Syria, and the region they already control in Iraq, if the Turks, along with Syria and its allies would allow it to happen.

Where does the US stand on this? Would we back the Turkish aspiration to control a Syrian buffer area between the Kurds to the East in Syria and in Iraq, and the Kurds in the West in Syria?

Would Russia, Syria, and Iran allow Turkey to succeed at that? What would happen if Russia and Iran moved against Turkey, if the Turks established a foothold in Northern Syria? Would the US come to Turkey’s defense?

Turkish President Erdogan is visiting Trump in DC in mid-May. Last Friday, Mr. Erdogan said he would personally urge Mr. Trump to stop working with the YPG, but Trump plans to directly arm them. What will the US response be to Erdogan, who looks more like a dictator controlling our only Islamic NATO ally?

Time for Trump and the State Department to wake up and solve the complex issues in Syria. Who knew being president would be so hard? This is not a time for shooting from the hip, or for deal-making, but for establishing principles for the end game in Syria with our most difficult NATO partner.

To help Trump and Tillerson wake up, here is the progressive rock band Yes, Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductees. The ceremony was broadcast Saturday night on HBO. The band’s co-founder, Jon Anderson, reunited for a performance of “Roundabout” from 1971. He’s here with bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Rick Wakeman, guitarist Trevor Rabin and drummer Alan White:

Those who view the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Will Erdogan Remain In The Trump Fan Club?

Trump has two towers in Istanbul. In December 2015, his local partner explored legal means to take Trump’s name off the towers after the Orange Overlord called for a ban on Muslims entering the US. In June, Turkish President Erdogan reportedly called for the removal of the Trump name from the towers.

But things have changed. The Economist reports that:

Mr. Erdogan appears to have changed his mind, both about the towers and about the man whose name appears on them. Although polls show that most Turks would have preferred to see Hillary Clinton as America’s new president, Mr. Trump’s election has been greeted in Ankara with a mix of schadenfreude and hope.

In fact, Erdogan has called US protests against Mr. Trump’s election “a disrespect to democracy”. The Economist says that Trump reportedly told Mr. Erdogan over the phone that his daughter, Ivanka, admired him, and flattery works all over the world.

Erdogan thinks that our Orange Overlord may be more amenable to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based preacher whom Turkey accuses of orchestrating the coup attempt in July. Since July, Turkey has pressed the Obama administration to extradite Mr. Gulen. The Turks felt sure that Hillary Clinton would not extradite him, since her campaign accepted donations from his followers.

In November, Trump’s National Security Advisor, former General Michael Flynn, strongly supported Turkish President Erdogan in an op-ed at The Hill, suggesting that Erdogan is under siege by “radical Islam” and desperately needs our help. Flynn said:

The forces of radical Islam derive their ideology from radical clerics like Gülen, who is running a scam. We should not provide him safe haven. In this crisis, it is imperative that we remember who our real friends are.

Flynn also seemed to dismiss Erdogan’s crackdown on political dissidents and the dubious circumstances of the attempted coup which allowed Erdogan to solidify his power. So let’s review Erdogan’s actions since July:

  1. Turkey now has outstripped China as the world’s biggest jailer of journalists. In addition, 150 news outlets have been closed, ranging from TV stations to online enterprises.
  2. Erdogan has suspended or fired 110,000 civil servants, judges, teachers, journalists and soldiers. This has gutted the educated middle class of Turkey.
  3. He has restarted an internal war with Kurds in Eastern Turkey, and has arrested the leadership of the Kurdish minority HDP party, which got more than 10% of seats in the last election.
  4. He has sent the Turkish Army into Syria in what was first described as border defense against ISIS (a group he has long supported), but it has been revealed that his plan is to reach central Syria and depose Bashar Assad.
  5. The EU has suspended negotiations for Turkish membership for civil rights backsliding, but not before they gave Turkey €6 billion to stop sending refugees into the EU.
  6. Erdogan has threatened to reopen the flow of refugees if the EU doesn’t agree to further Turkey’s application to join. Opening the refugee flow is an existential threat to the EU, and thus, to NATO.

Trump is holding a tough hand while playing poker with Turkey. As a NATO member with the largest standing army in Europe, Turkey occupies an important place in NATO’s strategy. Trump has to balance Turkey’s support for the mutual defense of Europe against Turkey’s intentions to go one-on-one against Syria.

He has to balance the shaky EU refugee deal with Turkey against Erdogan’s effort to engage militarily against the PKK, a Kurdish group in Iraq and Syria who are allied with the US against ISIS.

Erdogan has made an overture towards Russia and China. A link with them would destabilize NATO even further. Erdogan seems to be testing Trump’s resolve and his commitment to NATO at the same time. Perhaps he sees an opportunity to garner some good old American baksheesh, so he’s putting a foot in the water to see if it’s comfortable enough to dive in.

That may be a poor play, since while Trump may be sympathetic to Turkish concerns about Mr. Gulen, the cleric’s fate rests with America’s courts. Meanwhile, The Economist reports that Trump’s team wants to list the Muslim Brotherhood as a terror group, roll back the nuclear deal with Iran, and continue arming the PKK’s Syrian wing against ISIS.

Erdogan opposes all of these measures vehemently.

Some of Trump’s new team are not fans of Erdogan. In a tweet, Trump’s CIA-designate, Mike Pompeo, called Turkey an “Islamist dictatorship”.

Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Trump show certain similarities. Both are busy recasting and ruining their countries at the same time.

Let’s hope it doesn’t last.

 

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Turkish Democracy

Let’s pause in the ongoing discussion about the perilous state of US democracy in 2016 to focus on how far and how fast Turkish democracy has fallen.

Wrongo visited Istanbul in March 2013. At that point, Turkey seemed to be the better example of two Muslim-majority democracies that existed in the world (the other is Indonesia). Then came the Gezi Park demonstrations a few weeks later that left six people dead and 8,000 injured.

In July of this year, Turkey had an aborted coup attempt. In the three and half months since, Turkey has fired or suspended more than 110,000 government employees. They launched a military incursion into Syria, and have repeatedly threatened to do the same in Iraq.

So far, one third of Turkey’s highest-ranking military officers have been dismissed. Almost every major institution—military, judiciary, media, education, business—have been affected. And 170 newspapers, magazines, television stations and news agencies have been shut down, leaving 2,500 journalists unemployed.

Rights groups say the scale of the purges show Erdogan is using the coup attempt to crush all dissent. Erdogan has successfully manipulated the full-throated “patriotism” that the Turkish people showed after the attempted coup to create a constitutional change that would give him near-total executive powers.

The arrest and detention of judges, mayors, teachers, military personnel, civil servants, journalists and political opponents has shown that Erdogan is moving even further away from a pluralistic society.

On October 29, Turkey celebrated the 93rd anniversary of the founding of the Republic, but just two days later, the 92-year-old newspaper Cumhuriyet (The Republic) became the latest target in a crackdown on opposition media. The government continues to use the state of emergency following the July 15 coup attempt as a pretext for silencing Turkey’s few remaining critical voices.

The Istanbul prosecutor’s office said the staff at the paper were suspected of committing crimes on behalf of Kurdish militants and the network of Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric that Erdogan accuses of masterminding the July 15 coup attempt. The HuffPo reported that the state-run Anadolu agency said: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Journalists at the paper were suspected of seeking to precipitate the coup through “subliminal messages” in their columns before it happened,

Accused of using “subliminal messages.” This is the code language of authoritarian rule. Say goodbye to a democratic Turkey, it’s Erdogan’s country now. Such a sad turn for a nation full of bright and interesting people.

But it doesn’t end there. This week, also saw the State Department tell US Consulate family members to leave Turkey. The State Department has ordered the families to leave Turkey due to increased threats from extremist groups targeting US citizens.

Erdogan’s increasingly bellicose stance on the world stage has alarmed NATO (Turkey is a member) and the US, since it is becoming an ever more unpredictable partner, one over which we have decreasing leverage. From Reuters:

Erdogan warned this month that Turkey “will not wait until the blade is against our bone” in going after its enemies abroad and has hinted at a possible incursion into Iraq if a U.S.-backed assault against Islamic State in the city of Mosul causes sectarian strife which threatens Turkey’s borders. Frustrated that it has not been more involved in the Mosul operation, Sunni Muslim Turkey says it has a responsibility to protect ethnic Turkmen and Sunni Arabs in the area, once part of the Ottoman Empire. It fears Shi’ite militias, which on Saturday joined the offensive west of Mosul, will provoke ethnic bloodletting.

A Turkish ground operation in Iraq would be dangerous, risking embroiling its military on a third front as it pursues an offensive against Islamic State in Syria and against Kurdish PKK militants in its own southeast.

We need to think about how our two US presidential hopefuls would react to this mess once in power.

Whoever wins can’t just sloganeer about what to do with Turkey or about its ambitions in Syria and Iraq, any more than they can ignore what Russia’s and Iran’s objectives are.

Aydin Selcen, a retired Turkish diplomat who was consul general in Erbil, Iraq, the capital of northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, said:

History is like a huge supermarket where you can find what you want. You can choose a historical perspective created to rally the masses. But you can neither build a foreign policy nor a military strategy based on that…

Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump should stay out of the supermarket of domestic public opinion as well. The answers to dealing with Erdogan and the attack on Turkish democracy while simultaneously dealing with a hostile member of NATO will not be found in “The Art of The Deal.”

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Taking a Break From Domestic Politics

(The next column will appear on Monday 3/14. Starting tomorrow, the Wrongologist and Ms. Oh So Right are attending a wedding in Vermont)

Our preoccupation with the primaries, and dick-measuring has obscured several things that are happening around the world. Let’s take a quick look at three things we have talked about in the past.

US Russia/Middle East policy. Sec. Def. Ash Carter, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, and the wacky NATO Commander, Gen. Phillip Breedlove, all seem to be intent precipitating a war with Russia. Last week at a Congressional hearing, Breedlove called Russia “America’s greatest strategic threat.” He went on to accuse Vladimir Putin of “Weaponizing” the flood of ME refugees into Europe as a plan “to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve.”

We have our disagreements with Russia, we certainly hate what they did in Crimea and what they are doing in Ukraine. The jury is out on whether they are saving or frying our bacon in Syria, but it seems that we are (almost) on the same page there, except for our insistence that Assad must go.

It pays to remember that Russia is armed with several thousand nuclear weapons. Is it really wise for the head of NATO to pick a fight with a country that he knows feels deeply threatened by NATO expansion?

Our policy with Israel. Netanyahu has once again shown his contempt for Obama by spurning an invitation to meet in the Oval Office. When the Iran deal went down over Israel’s strong disagreement, the US agreed to send Israel more equipment and money to shore up their defenses against Iran. But, Netanyahu wants even more money and equipment than Obama is willing to give him, and he thinks that he will get a better “deal” from the next US president. Tom Friedman observed on PBS that Obama has quietly given up on the two-state solution, that it is up to Israel to implement a “one-state” solution: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The idea that they need John Kerry…to come over…It’s got to start with them. I think the most constructive thing President Obama could do [is]…say, we tried. It’s over. There’s going to be a one-state solution.

Friedman says all the Israelis do is pick apart new peace plans, making it more about the US, not about the warring factions in Israel: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

The Americans [should say]…nobody’s coming. It’s over. It’s yours. You own it. Now you live with it.

And fix it if you can. But can we expect that from ANY of the current presidential candidates? No, they all say that they are Bibi’s greatest supporters. So we can expect the policy of “whatever Bibi wants, Bibi gets” to continue.

Finally, Turkey: Turkey is a member of NATO. Turkey wants to become a member of the EU. But, President Tayyip Erdogan is moving quickly to make Turkey an illiberal democracy. Turkish elections are democratic and mostly fair, but the government that they elect imprisons journalists, reassigns police in the middle of inconvenient investigations, and most recently, closed the country’s largest newspaper. In fact, 2000 people have been arrested just for insulting President Erdogan.

The EU is considering accelerating Turkey’s negotiations for EU membership. That process, which has been stalled for years, normally requires a candidate country to meet basic standards on pesky items from the independence of its judiciary, to press freedoms, two things missing in today’s Turkey.

The EU is crafting a devil’s bargain. They want Turkey to open up new refugee resettlement camps to hold the Syrians who cross from Turkey to Greece, and on to the rest of Europe. But shopping in the Turkish bazaar is never wise for the novice. The EU learned that lesson this week, when it discovered the refugee deal it believed it had previously sold to Turkish leaders turned out to be just the beginning of the negotiation on Monday. Turkey’s counter offer would have prompted EU negotiators to get up and walk out six months ago. Ankara’s proposal:

• €3 billion in refugee aid in addition to the €3 billion already pledged.
• Liberalized visas for Turkish citizens to visit the EU.
• A pledge by the EU to resettle the same number of Syrian refugees already in Turkish refugee camps, as Turkey takes in when the EU sends them back.
• Accelerated consideration of Turkish EU membership.

Turkey’s message to Europe is: You need us more than we need you. Their message back should be: we’ll give you the money. That’s it.

In closing, Wrongo just can’t resist a brief return (excuse the pun on briefs) to the US general election. Hillary’s likely reaction to Trump’s exhibitionism: “Somewhat like a penis, only MUCH smaller”.

COW Trump Package

 

 

 

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Time to Dump Our Frenemy, Saudi Arabia

Our Middle East strategy is a failure. We want to blame someone for the failures in Iraq, Afghanistan and now, in Syria. Many will point the finger at Mr. Obama, and he is complicit in our failure, but so are all American presidents since Carter.

One constant in our ME efforts has been our ally, Saudi Arabia. They have been our confidante and along with Israel, they have provided intellectual leadership to our presidents and our military.

Since the 1930’s when we first recognized Saudi Arabia, we have tried to straddle the fence with our choice of allies in the ME. Turkey (NATO member) is Sunni. So is Saudi Arabia. Our “enemy” AL-Qaeda is Sunni. Our “enemy” Iran is Shia. Our “ally” Iraq is Shia. Our “enemy” Syria is Shia. Our “enemy” ISIS is Sunni.

Now, we need to reconsider our alliance with the Saudis.

Although many in the non-mainstream media have consistently pointed out that Saudi Arabia has been a key financier of ISIS, (see here, here, and here) we continue to spend our resources to defeat ISIS in both Syria and Iraq while our ally funds them. And they also export and promote a very similar brand of Islam to that of ISIS. The Progressive reported on the views of Cal State Professor Asad AbuKhalil:

The ideology of the Saudi regime is that of ISIS even if the foreign policies differ…Mainstream Islam frowns upon the views, excesses, practices and interpretations of ISIS…But Wahhabi Islam [the official ideology of the Saudi monarchy] is fully in sync with ISIS.

Still, there has been little mainstream media acknowledgement of the Saudi role until an article on 11/20 in the NYT by Algerian writer Kamel Daoud:

Black Daesh, white Daesh. The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hands, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims. The latter is better dressed and neater, but does the same things.

His white Daesh is Saudi Arabia. Here is how Daoud ends his piece: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Daesh [ISIS] has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its religious-industrial complex. Until that point is understood, battles may be won, but the war will be lost. Jihadists will be killed, only to be reborn again in future generations and raised on the same books.

Daoud makes this point about our relationship with Saudi Arabia:

In its struggle against terrorism, the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other. This is…denial, and denial has a price: preserving the famous strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia at the risk of forgetting that the kingdom also relies on an alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical form of Islam that Daesh feeds on.

Wahhabism is Saudi Arabia’s dominant faith. It is an austere form of Islam that insists on a literal interpretation of the Koran. Strict Wahhabis believe that all those who don’t practice their form of Islam are heathens and enemies. It hopes to restore a fantasized caliphate centered on a desert, a sacred book, and two holy sites, Mecca and Medina.

Saudi Wahhabis have spent $ billions to export Wahhabism throughout the ME. They have been able to greatly influence the politics and religion in Muslim countries, and the teaching of Islam in educational establishments.

It has changed these countries, and has led to the conversion of some Muslims to Wahhabism. This conversion of relatively small numbers of Muslims has had a large impact, because these converts have provided much of the leadership of the various jihadi movements that have sprung up in the ME.

The reality of Saudi support for ISIS is studiously ignored in America, probably because of their financial clout, their supply of oil, and our long-standing alliance with them. And there’s the trap. Denial creates an illusion that the Saudis are our partners.

Once again, desert Arabs are stoking a war designed to control the Fertile Crescent. But they are not alone. Turkey wants a rebirth of the Ottoman Empire. Israel prefers Muslims to fight each other, and not them. Russia wants to keep its Syrian base in order to project power elsewhere in the ME. The West wants secure access to oil and to enrich its military contractors by engaging there.

The Saudis also invaded Yemen, and we supported them. They attacked their neighbor under the pretense of reinstalling the deposed government. Now, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the local ISIS affiliate have flourished there. They are fomenting war throughout the ME.

So why would we rely on the Saudis in our war against ISIS?

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Why the Hysteria about Russia and Syria?

Tom Friedman gets it right:

Today’s reigning cliché is that the wily fox, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, has once again outmaneuvered the flat-footed Americans, by deploying some troops, planes and tanks to Syria to buttress the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and to fight the Islamic State forces threatening him. If only we had a president who was so daring, so tough, so smart.

The hysterical neocon viewpoint was amply represented by who else but John McCain, who told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that he could confirm that Russia’s initial strikes were:

Against our Free Syrian Army (FSA) or groups that have been armed and trained by the CIA, because we have communications with people there.

There was no similar howl of angst when NATO member Turkey started bombing the West’s friends the Kurds, instead of ISIS. So, no hypocrisy here.

And McCain calls them our FSA? We have no FSA, although the CIA trains a few groups. The prevailing neocon fantasy, that we could have prevented the Syrian mess by training and arming a bigger, badder “Free Syrian Army”, continues to pollute the Syrian issue, preventing honest debate. We trained and armed a million soldiers in Vietnam, 300,000+ in Iraq, and tens of thousands in Afghanistan. How did those efforts work out?

And our training of Syrian “moderate rebels” has been a total bust.

But, the Russians’ first foray didn’t hit ISIS, they hit other groups. Word is they hit targets north and west of Homs (al-Rastan, Talbisah and al-Zafaraaneh). This is an area controlled not by ISIS, but other rebel groups. And right on cue, we heard that they hit the Syrian “moderates”.

Imagine, the US couldn’t find “moderate” rebels for 3 years, but the Russians found them in 24 hours!

McCain characterized the Russian air strikes as:

An incredible flouting of any kind of cooperation or effort to conceal what their first — Putin’s priority is. And that is of course to prop up Bashar al-Assad.

It’s time for the US to move on. We need to accept the reality that Assad won’t be dealt with until the Islamist threat in Syria and Iraq is contained. It’s also time to let the Russians have a shot at containing the Islamist threat. Whatever Russia’s entry into Syria does for the confrontation with ISIS, it has clarified our thinking. Our strategy says we can’t work with Assad and Iran to attack ISIS. Putin’s strategy says work with Assad and Iran to attack Assad’s enemies and ISIS simultaneously:

• Putin’s first priority will be to secure the Russian base at Tartus and its air base at Latakia. That is what he has done with his initial strikes, as some insurgents have already tried to hit the Russian air base with rockets.
• After securing western and central Syria, Russia will work to take out ISIS, starting with eliminating a few ISIS groups that threaten Russian territory.

So, what should we be doing? Col. Pat Lang has a few ideas:

1. Obama should act as if Russia and Iran are more than just rivals and adversaries. This will take courage and leadership on his part to explain to the American people.
2. Obama must fully coordinate operations, intelligence analysis sharing and logistics with Russian and Iran.
3. We should forget about positive contributions to the ISIS fight from Turkey. Turkey is a major part of the problem.
4. We should ignore Saudi Arabia’s wishes with regard to Syria, since they support the jihadis.

Friedman describes the big advantage to letting Putin take the lead in Syria:

Let’s say the US did nothing right now, and just let Putin start bombing ISIS and bolstering Assad. How long before every Sunni Muslim in the Middle East, not to mention every jihadist, has Putin’s picture in a bull’s eye on his cellphone?

No one is arguing that Bashar al-Assad is a benevolent leader, but when US media and analysts at some think tanks start describing al-Qaeda as “moderate”, we need to rethink our strategy. Again.

You can’t go into Syria under the pretext of fighting ISIS and simultaneously try to depose Assad, only to gripe when Russia also goes into Syria under the pretext of fighting ISIS and props up Assad.

That sword cuts both ways.

The bottom line is that the US, and its ME and European allies are going to have to admit that getting rid of Assad is a secondary priority to our absolute requirement to contain and ultimately eliminate the threat from ISIS. They also must admit that none of the groups that the CIA and our ME allies have trained and supported represent a viable alternative to the Assad regime.

The sooner we do, the sooner Syria will cease to be the jihadi chessboard du jour, on which ISIS and a civil war in Syria have left hundreds of thousands of innocent people dead.

We need to turn a corner. Our current thinking has failed.

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Monday Wake Up Call – August 31, 2015

Today’s wake up is for Turkey. In addition to our geopolitical issues with them, they are waging a sub-rosa battle for water with Syria and Iraq. The Tigris-Euphrates river basin, which feeds Syria and Iraq, is rapidly drying up. It is drying up due to overuse, and because Turkey has dammed both rivers for its own use, both for agricultural irrigation and in some cases, for hydropower. For the geography-impaired, here is a view of the rivers and the countries:

Tigris and Euphrates

The water that now goes to farmers in Turkey used to flow down the Euphrates and Tigris to Syria and Iraq. In Syria, three drought years forced many farmers to leave the land. From Foreign Affairs:

By 2011, drought-related crop failure had pushed up to 1.5 million displaced farmers to abandon their land; the displaced became a wellspring of recruits for the Free Syrian Army and for such groups as the Islamic State (also called ISIS) and al Qaeda.

A 2010 study showed that today’s Syrian rebel strongholds of Aleppo, Deir al-Zour, and Raqqa were among the areas hardest hit by crop failure. In Iraq, the story is the same:

In Karbala, farmers are in despair and are reportedly considering abandoning their land. In Baghdad, the poorest neighborhoods rely on the Red Cross for drinking water. At times, the Red Cross has had to supply over 150,000 liters a day. Further south, Iraq’s central marshes, the Middle East’s largest wetlands, are disappearing again after being re-flooded after Saddam Hussein was ousted.

Syria and Iraq cannot solve the problem on their own. While there are agreements about minimum water flows between Turkey, Syria and Iraq, they are honored in the breach. Between 1975 and 1991, on three occasions, Syria and Iraq threatened Turkey with military action over reduced river flows due to Turkey damming the rivers.

Saudi Arabia and Russia mediated tensions among the three countries in the 1970s, but the challenge today is that no international or regional powers have been willing to force the countries to work together. Foreign Affairs says that 40 memoranda of understanding struck between Iraq and Turkey over water sharing at the height of the drought in 2009 have led to almost no concrete progress. More from Foreign Affairs: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Although current agreements between Syria and Turkey provide for 500 cubic meters per second, 46% of which goes to Iraq…According to Jasim al Asadi, a hydrologist with Nature Iraq, by the time the Euphrates reaches Nasiriyah in Southern Iraq, a minimum of 90 cubic meters per second is required for municipal, industrial, and agricultural use. Sometimes, the flow can be as low as 18 cubic meters per second…Before major dam construction in the 1970s, [in Turkey] the average flow in the Euphrates was about 720 cubic meters per second. Now it is about 260 as it enters Iraq.

Nearly two-third of the water flow Iraq used to get is gone, and there is no way to replace it. Moreover what little water is currently still flowing may soon be gone as well: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Full implementation of [Turkey’s water plans]…could reduce the Euphrates’ flows to Iraq by 80%. Now, consider that Iraq relies on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for over 90% of its freshwater, and you can imagine the potential fallout of the [Turkish] plan on Iraq’s agricultural production.

Turkey has had its own issues with drought, but Turkey is not facing a national-level water emergency like Syria and Iraq. So is there a solution? Not today. Turkey won’t help Syria. There is some hope in Iraq, since relations between the countries is better now than at any point in the past 10 years.

But Turkey controls the headwaters of the Tigris-Euphrates river system. To ignore the imminent water crisis is to ignore another major fault line in the Middle East. Turkey needs to wake up and deal with the countries downstream who desperately need a larger share of water. To help them wake up, here is Jimmy Cliff doing “By the Rivers of Babylon” live in NYC in 2013:

For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can see the video here.

Monday’s Hot Links:

NRA radio host says calling for new gun laws right after the VA shooting is gross. IT’S TOO SOON!!! Besides, as ANY red-blooded White Christian patriot will tell you, MOR GUNZ!!! The NRA has a radio station?

The Beatles 10 greatest guitar moments. Includes Wrongo’s favorite, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” from Abbey Road (1969).

The Onion reports that a gay teen is worried that he might be Christian. His father says, “No son of mine is going to try to get intelligent design into school textbooks.” He added, “I just want my normal gay son back.”

Alabama is trying to make it even harder to get a voter ID. As a budget cutting measure, they are shutting down the vast majority of DMV offices. The proposal to close dozens of DMVs across the state, starting in rural areas, could hurt voters who need an ID to vote.

Sen. Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, says the devil overplayed his hand with the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage. Pappy Cruz: “The basis for their decision was the 14th Amendment. That means they’re calling homosexuality a civil right…If they’re calling homosexuality a civil right, that means that the next obvious step is a homosexual may come to your church and demand to be hired.” Sadly, pappy Cruz and his hate-addled, homophobic son line their pockets as a result of this spew.

Quote for the week:
You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother”− (attributed to Albert Einstein)

 

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Turkey Hoodwinked Washington

From the BBC:

The US and Turkey reached an agreement which will see Turkish jets join the air campaign against Islamic State (IS) militants. American officials hailed the agreement as “a significant step forward” in the fight against IS.

The good news was that Turkey would now be fully integrated into the strategy of the wider anti-ISIS coalition. However, as of last week, the Turkish Air Force had conducted 300 strikes against Kurdish targets versus three against ISIS targets. So Turkey, while giving lip service to the war against ISIS, is actually attacking the Kurds, who in this case, are ISIS’s enemies. As we said in our column on 8/25:

The present strategy of the US for defeat of ISIS is ultimately dependent on the Turks. Turkey is the main pathway through which ISIS receives recruits…and [is] the main pathway through which ISIS continues to export oil to raise money.

Turkey has a conflicted relationship with ISIS. Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest has a long article describing the problems of Turkey as an ally posted at the American Conservative:

Indeed, when I was in Istanbul last July, bearded rebels were observed in the more fundamentalist neighborhoods collecting money for ISIS without any interference from the numerous and highly visible Turkish police and intelligence services.

Given the state of play that now exists in the ME, Washington was delighted when Turkey announced on July 23rd that it would play a more active role against ISIS. But the euphoria in DC was short lived, as Turkey quickly demonstrated that its partnership with the US was window dressing, as ISIS was not the enemy that Ankara had in mind.

Why the bait-and-switch? Turkey’s domestic politics. Turkey held a parliamentary election on June 5th in which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) failed to obtain a majority. Worse still, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which is largely Kurdish, won more than 13% of the vote, much of it consisting of former AKP seats, making it a potential swing party in forming a new government. The AKP couldn’t form a coalition government without the Kurds or a right-wing party, which Erdogan wouldn’t permit, and new elections now seem set for November 1st. Erdogan wants to try again for a substantial AKP majority, which would allow him to amend the constitution, and add significant new powers to his role. Nevertheless, the most recent election demonstrated that AKP had lost some control, and Erdogan had to do something to create a more compelling narrative.

Enter the Kurds.

For three decades, Turkey has been at war with the Kurds, some of whom seek more autonomy within Turkey, while others favor the creation of an independent Kurdish state incorporating parts of Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey. 18% of the Turkish population is of Kurdish origin, and are the country’s largest minority.

Even though Turkey has had a cease fire with the most powerful Kurdish dissident group, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) since 2013, the AKP’s calculation appears to be that more chaos will mean more votes, with people turning to the devil they know in hopes of stability.

And Erdogan chose to attack the Kurds under the aegis of the US-led war on ISIS.

All of this suggests that the US was bamboozled. One American general called the development a “bait and switch,” while another commented that Erdogan “needed a hook” to go after the Kurds, and lied to Washington to get one. Surely, the Pentagon, CIA and White House know that they were all snookered.

When the news broke that Turkey had bombed ISIS and when it mentioned (without comment) the PKK, it was obvious what the Turk’s game really was. And, they are not alone:

Saudi Arabia plays the War on Terror game to get us to help out with Yemen, and to counter Iran.

Israel plays the War on Terror game to keep the $billions coming.

Egypt’s Sisi also plays the War on Terror game to keep US aid coming and to help consolidate his own grip on Egypt.

Our own domestic Fear Machine uses the War on Terror to keep the taxpayer-paid gravy train rolling along.

The only ones not benefiting from some Terror-related play are we, the people suckers. Oh, and the collateral damage to the people in the countries that we and our allies are “liberating.”

See you on Sunday.

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Our ISIS Strategy is Undermined by Our Muslim Allies

Pat Lang, a retired Colonel in Military Intelligence and a specialist in the Middle East who taught Arabic at West Point, says at his blog, Sic Semper Tyrannis: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

The present strategy of the US for defeat of ISIS is ultimately dependent on the Turks. Turkey is the main pathway through which ISIS receives recruits…and [is] the main pathway through which ISIS continues to export oil to raise money. Erdogan’s Turkey has until very recently barred the US from the use against ISIS of air bases built and maintained by the US for NATO.

On July 25, The Guardian disclosed that US Special Forces had captured “hundreds of flash drives and documents” when they raided the compound of Islamic State’s financial chief, Abu Sayyaf (May 15-16, 2015). The documents showed there had been widespread collusion by Turkish government officials in the smuggling of oil from ISIS-controlled oil fields in eastern Syria.

Lang goes on to say that Turkey and the US have different expectations and goals: The US wants the bases for the war against ISIS, but the Turks want the downfall of the Assad government in Syria and a buffer against a Kurdish state on their southern border. This aligns Turkey with Saudi Arabia and the Sunni governments in the Gulf. The prospect of a Syria dominated by a Nusra Front-led government does not bother Erdogan. He wants a similar outcome for Turkey if he can get enough seats in parliament to change the Turkish constitution to eliminate its Kemalist secularism.

The Turks also want the US to help them bomb the Kurds (by which Erdogan means all Kurds) into submission. To this end, the Turks will use their own forces and any support they can get from the US and the Europeans. In fact the various Kurdish groups, despite their political and tribal differences are really one people. If the US became complicit in attacks on Kurdish fighters of any kind, it risks the loss of our Kurdish ally in Iraq. From HuffPo:

The US finds itself in a position where a key ally, Turkey, is effectively at war with the one ground force, the Kurds, who, when supported by American air power, have been the most effective in rolling back the Islamic State.

Under these circumstances is it any wonder that the ISIS continues to thrive? The Republican drum beat for more American troops on the ground is not because the jihadis are an existential threat to the US but, rather because they menace civilized life in the Islamic World and potentially, across the rest of the world as well. But without real Turkish cooperation, victory over the ISIS isn’t possible, and the US should not attempt it. More from Col. Lang: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

There will be no Western style Reformation of Islam…Most people reading this do not understand the lack of central religious authority in Islam that leads to this chaos…That lack of central authority, when combined with a mindset that inextricably links religious and political authority creates chaos that can only be resolved by force. We should withdraw from the area and watch in fascinated horror. The Israelis? Well, pilgrims, they have sown the wind…

So, how should our strategy evolve? So long as the US continues to support and play along with our Muslim allies, fighting ISIS is a pointless endeavor. It just digs America deeper into a religious war within Islam without any benefits to us. Once the US is not engaged, we will cease to be manipulated by our erstwhile allies – the Saudis, Turks, Gulf States, and Israelis. At that point, those states will need to concentrate their thinking on matters of their own and regional security.

This would be a smarter strategy than our current plan of kicking the can down the road and believing in unicorns. Analysis by Pat Lang:

…the world has changed; the local has become universal, and the burden of existential misery, caused by overpopulation, climate change, misgovernance, war, poverty and loss of hope, has affected large numbers of people worldwide. Local and temporary “solutions”, especially military ones, will no longer work. And, in fact, are likely to worsen the situation.

Overall, our strategy to assist in the defeat of ISIS has not brought about anything positive. From Rosa Brooks in Foreign Policy:

So far, the US-led military campaign…appears to have achieved few positive results…intelligence sources have reportedly concluded that the Islamic State has not been fundamentally weakened. At best, we are probably prolonging the status quo.

It’s very frustrating that we can’t clear an area the size of Kansas with airpower. Either fight the ISIS all the way, or just leave them the hell alone.

The vote here is to get out of the way.

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A State for the Kurds?

The Kurds are on the verge of creating a homeland of their own, despite Iraq and US efforts to avoid it. If they do, the Middle East may never be the same. The Wall Street Journal had an interesting report about the possibility of an independent Kurdish state:

Amid an imploding Middle East ravaged by religious hatreds, the Kurds are providing a rare bright spot—and their success story is finding fresh support and sympathy in the West. By contrast with the rest of the region, all the main Kurdish movements today are broadly pro-Western and secular.

There are 30 million Kurds in the ME and only 4.5-6 million live in Iraq. Their language, Kurdish, is part of the Indo-European family of languages—close to Persian (Farsi) but unrelated to Arabic or Turkish.

Unlike Iranians, who are mostly Shiite Muslims, most Kurds are Sunnis. Despite that, they are confronting the Sunni ISIS, and the Shiite-supported Syrians.

Here is a map of the potential Kurdish state:

Kurdish Empire

 

In Iraq, the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government, (KRG), was adopted by the new Iraqi constitution after the US invasion. Kurds control their own affairs. This has allowed the Kurds to achieve a boom in investment and construction that has produced new highways, hotels and shopping malls.

The Kurdistan government in northern Iraq maintains its own armed forces, known as the Peshmerga (literally, “those who confront death”), and no Iraqi troops are allowed in the region. The KRG controls its own borders, and Westerners can fly into the region’s capital, Erbil, without a visa. Kurdish is used everywhere as the official language, and few young Iraqi Kurds can speak fluent Arabic.

Yet, political divisions hamper the Kurds’ fight against ISIS, and their prospects for self-rule. Only a minority of Peshmerga brigades on the front lines are under KRG command, while the rest still report directly to one of the two rival political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party or the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

From a regional perspective, Iran has a significant Kurdish minority that it has suppressed in the past. Now, it is strengthening ties with the KRG, since Iran views the KRG as an ally in the fight against ISIS.

In Syria, the civil war has enabled Kurds to set up a wide area of self-administration in the northeast of the country, eliminating the border between Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, who now travel back and forth across it without visas.

And in Turkey, decades of outright denial of the existence of Kurds, (they called Kurds “Mountain Turks”) led to a bloody war between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The fighting ended only after a cease-fire was proclaimed in March 2013. The PKK was once an ally of the Assad regime, and is still classified as a terrorist group by the US and Turkey.

But, in the just-concluded Turkish elections, Kurds voted for the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, which won 13% of the national vote and gained 86 seats in the Turkish parliament. The Kurds demonstrated they can serve as check against the anti-democratic aspirations of Turkey’s President Erdogan.

But neither the Iraqis nor the US want an independent Kurdistan, despite the possibility that Kurdistan as an independent state would be a buffer against the expansion of ISIS. They act as a “Northern Front” in the war against ISIS, and ISIS will be forced to commit resources to the area, as demonstrated by the Kurds seizing the crucial border crossing, Tal Abyad, cutting ISIS supply lines and uniting Kurdish areas that now stretch from Iraq halfway to the Mediterranean Sea.

Yes, an independent Kurdistan would mean the “fragmenting” of Iraq, which Mr. Obama does not support. But Iraq was never a real country; it was cobbled together after WW1 by European bureaucrats drawing arbitrary lines on a map, with no thought to historical or cultural realities. Like Humpty Dumpty, no one knows how to put those historical anomalies “Syria” and “Iraq” back together again. They’re going to be a mess for a while.

The Kurds are different. They have the makings of a state − an area that enjoys the allegiance of its people, has civil order that allows it to raise taxes and create an effective army. It is doubtful that the US will formally recognize a Kurdish state anytime soon, but the ME is a place where that is irrelevant.

No need to recognize the Kurds as a state, just treat them like one. Buy their oil (as Israel does), and give them weapons and humanitarian aid.

They may richly repay the investment.

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