Turkey And Syria

by lizard

In a discussion from my Case Against Blind Support for Israel post, The Polish Wolf makes some comments that deserve some closer inspection. I’ll include his first comment in full, since it starts out with some praise that is appreciated, especially from someone I’ve had a few passionate disagreements with.

One of your best posts, I would say. We are in complete agreement – some forces in Israel definitely want a war in Iran, and would prefer the US to take the brunt of the consequences. I think conservatives are making more of the split between Netanyahu and Obama than their really is, but any daylight between the two is a good sign. The US seems more interested now in aligning with the new populist Sunni states than with Israel. Ultimately I think the big Israeli mistake was allowing their relations with Turkey to erode so badly – in hard power Turkey is an equal to Israel, their soft power far exceeds the Israelis, and they have a stable government with support from the majority of their people – in other words, they are an equally potent ally without all the side effects. If Israel wants to get back their special relationship with the US, they need to start with repairing their relationship with Turkey.

One of the things I emphasize over and over again, in post after post, is how US foreign policy produces unforeseen consequences, aka, blowback.

Part of why that happens, IMHO, is because of a national arrogance derived from having the most deadly (and expensive) military the world has ever seen. It seems to create a sense that we don’t really need to understand the other players on the global stage because, in the end, the people with the biggest guns win.

Interventionists like the Polish Wolf support the notion of a smarter, nicer, and ultimately necessary US imperial presence in the world. Though we mostly disagree, he, unlike a majority of Americans, actually tries to understand the perspectives of other countries—something I’d say even our top-level state department officials need to try doing.

So with that mutual desire in mind to understand other nations, especially ones who are in military alliances like NATO with us, I’d like to challenge the claim that Turkey has “a stable government” supported by a majority of its people.

First, when I think of stable governments, I don’t usually envision ongoing trials of high-ranking military officials for planning a coup:

Three Turkish generals are among 15 high-ranking active duty officers arrested during the weekend for a failed coup plan, court officials said.

The officers were tried in absentia and sentenced to jail time in the Sledgehammer coup case, which ended on Friday, Today’s Zaman reported.

More than 300 officers convicted in the coup conspiracy, for which planning started in 2003, were sentenced in the Friday hearing.

Ten officers were arrested Sunday by Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court, including two generals and seven colonels. Five more people were arrested Monday.

Of those arrested Sunday, Maj. Gen. Ayhan Gumus was sentenced to 16 years in prison. The rest received terms of 13 years four months.

Dissent within Turkey’s military ranks is incredibly important to take into consideration as Turkey’s overt involvement in the escalating Syrian crisis continues.

For a little context, back in June, Syria shot down a Turkish warplane it claimed had violated its airspace. This after cross border attacks by the Free Syrian Army based out of Turkey were being used by Turkey’s PM, Erdogan, as a possible justification to invoke article 5.

It was reported just yesterday in the Denver Post that the Free Syrian Army has finally moved its headquarters from Turkey to Syria, “with the aim of uniting rebels and speeding up the fall of President Bashar Assad’s regime.”

Here’s more from the link:

Brig. Gen. Mustafa al-Sheikh, who heads the FSA’s Military Council, said that the group made the move last week. He would not give the location of the new headquarters or other details.

The FSA is the most prominent of the rebel groups trying to topple Assad, though its authority over networks of fighters in Syria is limited. Its commanders have been criticized for being based in Turkey while thousands are killed inside Syria.

I guess the FSA is the most prominent rebel group, thanks to how the western media has been “reporting” the crisis in Syria. Of course this little group called al-Qaeda is also one of the rebel groups, but widespread reporting of that little factoid would probably confuse an American audience, considering we’ve spent over a trillion dollars allegedly trying to eradicate them off the face of the earth.

So because the mainstream news isn’t blaring the involvement of our nemesis in Syria, it gets relegated to jack asses like Alex Jones and anonymous bloggers like me to say HEY, NOW WAIT JUST A GODDAMN MINUTE!

You can also find it reported at places like Digital Journal (the article got 43 likes on Facebook!) Here’s a snip:

A top strategist at the prestigious U.S. Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is crediting al-Qaeda forces in Syria with the resurgence of the rebellion against President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.

“The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks,” writes Ed Husain, a Senior Fellow of Middle East Studies with the CFR, which is considered in political circles to be America’s most influential foreign-policy think tank.

So what is Turkish sentiment about getting involved in Syria? This article from The Kurdish Globe is worth reading. The quick answer: it’s complicated. Here’s how the article starts out:

Developments in Syria are being watched by the world press with ever-increasing interest. What will be the fate of rebels and of Assad’s regime and what is the current situation in Syria are the most frequently asked questions. Turkish state authorities are also closely following the events in Syria, and they very often convey their opinions and make statements about Syria. However, their statements and some of their opinions include a variety of arguments that are partly contradictory and conflicting. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its supporters are especially harsh in criticizing Assad’s Syria and his treatment of rebels. Other political parties in Turkey do not want to be involved with the policies regarding Syria or do not have much to say about it.

Later in the piece, the political opposition is described in more detail:

…Turkish opposition parties are dissatisfied with Turkey’s Syria policy and have criticized the AKP and Erdogan because of his harsh statement against Syria. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said, “Erdogan says Syria is an internal affair and that Turkey has run out of patience on the Syria issue. What will the government do then, Is it going to conduct a military operation” He should explain why Turkey has run out of patience.” He accused Erdogan of being “a subcontractor” of the Western powers in the Middle East.”Turkey is on the way to becoming a pawn of the United States. We shouldn’t get involved in possible military action in Syria,” he added.

Syria is not a crisis happening in a vacuum. It’s a crisis happening in an incredibly volatile region, where sectarian conflicts and domestic uprisings get highlighted and supported, or violently suppressed, based not on human rights, but geopolitics.

That’s something I hope well-intentioned interventionists understand.

  1. lizard19

    worth reading from The Nation, Obama Against the World.

  2. It’s good to bring up the alleged coup in Turkey, because its another thing Erdogan has in common with Mursi. Turkey has been a nominal democracy for some time, but until recently the army has always had the final say. That someone tried a coup and failed suggests that Turkey is moving towards an actual democracy. Again, the US would certainly prefer that that democracy be achieved under a secular government, but it is taking Sunni populism to bring their over-powerful, over-funded military to bear. This is precisely the situation in Egypt, as well – decades after the military crushed the Islamic brotherhood, the Islamic brotherhood is coming back to bring the military under control.

    That the Turkish opposition is opposed to intervention in Syria is unsurprising, because a great deal of the opposition is composed of elite secularists who are not a little uncomfortable with religious populism which already cost them control of their own country and is currently spreading through Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria. Again, the major Turkish opposition is probably ideologically more acceptable to the US and Israel, but Erdogan’s party is the one elected by the Turkish people, and if we’re going to profess support for Muslim

    As my wife just pointed out to me, Turkey has another powerful incentive to want Assad out of the picture: with an increasingly resurgent and muscular Russia, and with Saakashvili and Putin both in power still, the potential for a issues in the Caucasus is still high. With Iran accusing Azerbaijan of collaborating with Israel, any hostilities between the Israel and Iran are likely to involve the Caucasus as well. If Turkey is likely to face hostility from the north and east in the event of hostilities between either of those sets of rivals, it only makes sense that they would want to eliminate a potential Russian and Iranian ally to their south. Moreover, if Azerbaijan, Iraq, and the straight of Hormuz are at risk in an Iranian-Israeli conflict, it can’t hurt Turkey to have a land route from the Gulf to Turkey.

    In other words, Turkey does indeed face internal opposition, but that opposition, while ideologically admirable in the Middle East context, is ultimately at odds with the general population of the country and the populist trend in the region as a whole. If Democracy is going to spread in the Middle East, an entente of Istanbul, Cairo and Damascus is the best chance for it. It is a fair question whether the US should be involved in making that axis happen, but from a Turkish perspective is seems difficult to imagine simply leaving the situation alone.

    • lizard19

      Again, the US would certainly prefer that that democracy be achieved under a secular government, but it is taking Sunni populism to bring their over-powerful, over-funded military to bear. This is precisely the situation in Egypt, as well – decades after the military crushed the Islamic brotherhood, the Islamic brotherhood is coming back to bring the military under control.

      the US, IMHO, would have preferred NO Arab Spring in the first place. luckily for US imperialists, tried and true methods of exploitation have led domestic movements to be caught up in the geopolitics of the region.

      Turkey is going to have a much harder time suppressing the PKK as it helps lead Syria to a protracted civil war, but who cares about that when the goal is an eventual full blown war with Iran?

      • The PKK question is valid, and is perhaps the one big risk Turkey is taking here. That is apparently a risk they are willing to take. But you make two errors in my opinion –

        First of all, there was very little ‘domestic’ about these movements. The situations in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain did not come about by coincident – a region-wide movement originating largely from geopolitical circumstances. I understand that it’s harder to get totally behind a movement when they stop being a peaceful protest and start arming themselves. However, what you have to realize is that peaceful protests have very little potential for change if not accompanied by an armed element. In Tunisia, that was the army. In Egypt, it was the army. In Libya, that was a portion of the army, with NATO backing. When you support a peaceful protest, you can scarcely blame those protestors when they don’t maintain that peacefulness literally under fire. It was predictable from the start that those countries aligned more strongly with China and Russia, whose publics are not horribly worried about shooting protestors would have no problem shooting their protestors.

        The second error is accusing Turkey or the US of trying to start a full scale war with Iran. If the US wanted a war, they could have started one. As for Turkey, they are arguably the country that has contributed the most to finding a peaceful solution between Iran and the US; the suggestion that they are trying to cause a full scale war is off base, in my opinion. But at the point the Assad regime started shooting its own people, efforts by the US and by Turkey to normalize relations stopped dead in their tracks – it became politically impossible to side with Syria or continue trade and relations with him, but also highly undesirable to have Assad stay in power after having burned those bridges. Therefore, it is quite understandable to want him removed, for both the US and Turkey, for reasons that have nothing to do with trying to start a war with Iran. Again, the country with no cards to play is Israel – they fear both Hezbollah, a Shia group tied to Syria and Iran, and Hamas, the greater potential threat with ties to the Islamic Brotherhood that has already called for Assad to go. That the US has expressed no dismay with Mursi replacing Mubarak suggests that we are siding with Turkey to the detriment of Israel.

        • lizard19

          so you are denying the various uprisings as having any domestic autonomy? that’s incredibly condescending, and indicative of the national arrogance I cited in the post.

          corruption, suppression, and economic desperation is a powerful cocktail.

          would you say the tea party or OWS has very little domestic about those movements?

          as for your other contention, in rereading my comment, I can see how you think I’ve implied it’s in part Turkey’s goal to start a war with Iran, but that’s not what I meant to imply.

          but the US, yes, there are very strong elements that still reside within the halls of power that want war with Iran.

          that’s one of the few reasons I hope the current criminal in the White House retains his office.

          • Jack Ruby

            There will be no war with Iran, it doesn’t matter who wins the election.

          • “corruption, suppression, and economic desperation is a powerful cocktail.” I guess I didn’t mean domestic as in they were not home grown movements, they certainly were. But they were certainly not caused by movements that were restricted to national borders – from the beginning this was a regional trend, and it had great potential to spread and lead to relatively peaceful revolutions like the one that occurred in Tunisia. That possibility, however, depended on people trusting their armies not to shoot them. As soon as lethal military force was brought to bear in Libya, the whole movement entered a new, more divisive phase – Libya, Bahrain and Syria showed that peaceful protests cannot trump military might.

            That is when the geopolitical difference became apparent – once both sides were shooting. Because really, the Tunisian and Egyptian armies would have only been postponing the inevitable if they tried to crush the protests – without Western support, they would wither. As Uzbekistan learned, even a strategically valuable country can only get away with so much and still count on the US as a friend. Russia and China, attach no similar caveats to their friendship. The result? To get rid of a regime allied with them, you have to shoot back.

        • Jack Ruby

          Israel has ‘cards to play’. They benefit in obvious ways from having Hezbollah and Hamas along with their various backers pitted against one and other along sectarian lines as opposed to being united against Israel. They also benefit from further fracturing of strong central state govts among their rivals into decentralized toothless ‘nations’ like Iraq.

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