“Old is the new New”
Winter is coming and what was once old is now new again. While the Cubs won the US World Series of Baseball for the first time in 108 years the Cold War returned, freezing the NATO periphery. In the Middle East, several Civil Wars collude to challenge the order and national delineation, reimagining the new Ottoman Empire. Halloween apparitions of old ghosts re-appear at a most inconvenient time. In order to place this into context, its necessary to understand what makes Turk policy tick and why it conflicts with the West.
Long after Tennyson wrote the “Charge of the Light Brigade”, an ode to the British light infantry troops mowed down in a Crimean valley by Russian guns, the area remains disputed territory. While the Ottoman Empire has shrunk to modern Turkey, the Anatolian plain remain a large prize that entices empires to sacrifice soldiers, “Theirs not to reason why, but to do and die”.
To understand the Middle Eastern conflict it is necessary to understand history. This month’s Playboy magazine ran a very interesting interview with former NSA and CIA Director, Michael Hayden. Playboy asked the key questions on all of minds. In three paragraphs, Hayden raised several key Specters:
What’s the future of Iraq?
Iraq doesn’t exist. It’s gone, and it’s not coming back. Syria doesn’t exist either.
We can’t fix them?
That’s correct. We will never have a unitary political entity called Iraq again, nor will we have one called Syria. Even if we could replace Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Bashar al-Assad with St. Francis of Assisi, those places would still be shitty. And they’re going to be shitty for a generation or two because Islam is now going through what Christendom went through in the middle of the 17th century with the Thirty Years’ War. At the end of that, our monotheism decided, “You know, we’ve got lots of reasons to kill one another, but let’s take religion off the list.” We severed state power from theological disputes. It remains to be seen what this great monotheism will do with that question.
You use the formulation “war on terror,” which George W. Bush started. Why won’t you just say that the U.S. is in a war against radical Islam, as Trump and others argue?
Because that’s a bridge too far. This is indeed about Islam—but it’s not about all of Islam, and it’s certainly not about all Muslims. There are multiple civil wars in Islam—a Sunni-Sunni war between the monarchies and ISIS and Al Qaeda; a Sunni-Shia war led by Saudi Arabia and Iran; and then Islam, as one of the world’s great monotheisms, trying to make its peace with what you and I call modernity.
Suddenly frightened awake from a long nap, Turkey is now on the march, not only preparing for an Iraq invasion, but also an armored incursion into Syria. An incursion into Raqqa at the behest of the US. Now it’s clear why Russia is moving their heavy hitters into the region. The region’s future is definitely at stake. Per the Turks and spelled out by Hayden, Syria is gone. Russia knew this and is making their warm water port land grab now in order to strengthen their Mediterranean foot hold. Modern Russia is unsustainable and the dying country needs a fresh population injection to shoulder the aging Empire. The waves of immigrants may well turn the Russian machine. The former Ottoman master, Turkey also recognizes an opportunity to advance their influence and graft in their historic Turkic enclaves.
In the latest provocation between Turkey and Iraq, the Turkish military deployed heavy armor and artillery to the Iraqi border town, Silopi. Erdogan and his defense Minister claimed the territory in the fight against terrorism. This divide will foment the coming Kurdish civil war and will begin the northern territory’s secession from Iraq. Already, Turkey has several thousand troops outside of Mosul, waiting for the right timing to advance.
Not too long ago, Iraq bemoaned the presence of Turkish troops on its territory, threatening a “regional war” if Turkey does not withdraw back to its borders. This is all pre-positioning of troops, in preparation for the conclusion of the Battle of Mosul. After which, the Ottoman annexation of Iraq could begin.
Ash Carter, US Secretary of Defense, anticipates these Turkish movements as central to the IS campaign. Simultaneously, he intends on coordinating with the Kurds and Turks (historic enemies) to take Raqqa. Turkey believes that the Raqqa operation should be carried out by local forces and the Kurdish YPG militia should not be included. The US currently has Soldiers embedded with the YPG Kurdish militias surrounding Raqqa. Allowing the Turks deep into Syria potentially outs US Soldiers on both sides of the battle and facing each other.
Carter stated “We intend to go there soon with the force that is capable of doing that and enveloping the city of Raqqa… the final seizure of Raqqa, we continue to talk to Turkey about that and a possible role for Turkey in that further down the road.”
The US holds the YPG as an ally in its fight against Islamic State, but Turkey regards it as a terrorist organization because of its links with Kurdish militants fighting a three-decade insurgency in Turkey.
Kurdish YPG militia fighters will be included as a part of the force to isolate the Islamic State-held Syrian city, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq has said. US officials previously stated that Arab forces are expected to be the ones to take the Raqqa.
With US forces caught in the middle the US State Department needs to generate a compromise plan that coordinates the Kurdish militias to surround Raqqa while Turkey and its Arab (pan Ottoman) allies clear Raqqa itself.
Turkey Begins Switching Sides
The past two weeks have seen a dramatic shift in President Erdogon and Turkey’s reliability rating as a NATO ally. Turkey threatened to join the Shanghai Cooperation Alliance, a Sino-Russian backed regional trade partnership that encourages Eastern trade while discouraging Western involvement. Defecting to the SCO would make Turkey’s European Union membership impossible. Immediately after announcing Turkey’s interest in switching sides, the EU announced that they would not be considering Turkey’s membership any further this year, and German defense officials immediately began searching for basing alternatives for its anti-ISIS bombing campaigns. This is a further extension of the earlier tit-for-tat between Germany not being allowed to visit its troops at Incirlik Air Base due to the immigrant feud.
Turkey has received nearly $4 billion dollars to stop immigrants from flooding Europe, an effort that Erdogan is now threatening to cease providing if the EU is no longer considering Turkey’s inclusion. Turkey’s threat to join the SCO is not simply and idle economic threat. According to Michael Kaplow, a Middle East analyst and policy director of the Israel Policy Forum, Turkeys move away from the West will have long standing consequences.
“If Turkey were to actually join the SCO, it would, of course, drastically alter relations with the US and NATO. It would be viewed as a rejection of the Western alliance and make it incredibly difficult to include Turkey in any type of high-level strategic dialogue, given concerns about Russian expansionism,” he said, adding that Turkey, unlike other NATO members, is already a partner country to SCO dialogue.
As a result of Turkey’s schizophrenic behavior, it is proving it self to be a less than stable regional ally. Turkey is likely to continue moving away from the West, and the West will match the distance and speed away from and increasingly isolate Turkey. Romania, Bulgaria, the Kurds and Montenegrins as well as Kazakhstan and Tajikistan may prove to be the recipients of more EU and Western attentions should Turkey completely bolt from NATO. All this may very well be part of a more elaborate Russian plan to trip up NATO. In the same Business Insider interview, geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer, president of the political risk firm Eurasia Group explained:
In theory, SCO membership would not require Turkey’s exit from NATO. In practice, however, it would severely strain Ankara’s ties with other NATO members. Ultimately, however, Erdogan is just looking for leverage. (He) wants the US to rely less on the Syrian Kurds and to extradite [Fethullah] Gulen rather than a signal of a historic and strategic shift away from the West, noting that many existing SCO members don’t necessarily want Turkey to join. Putin will make sure that this is a slow and painful process for Turkey and the transatlantic alliance, he knows that as a rogue and dysfunctional NATO ally, Turkey is of greater use to Moscow than as a defector to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.