Belmont Club

Ringed By Fire

In recent article,  George Friedman called Turkey a country ringed by conflagrations: “four major segments of the European and Asian landmass were in crisis: Europe, Russia, the Middle East (from the Levant to Iran) and China.”

Sitting at the center of these crisis zones is a country that until a few years ago maintained a policy of having no problems with its neighbors. Today, however, Turkey’s entire periphery is on fire. There is fighting in Syria and Iraq to the south, fighting to the north in Ukraine and an increasingly tense situation in the Black Sea. To the west, Greece is in deep crisis (along with the EU) and is a historic antagonist of Turkey. The Mediterranean has quieted down, but the Cyprus situation has not been fully resolved and tension with Israel has subsided but not disappeared. Anywhere Turkey looks there are problems. As important, there are three regions of Eurasia that Turkey touches: Europe, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union.

Last week Anakara’s policy of keeping the fires at arms’ length started to break down. “Turkey has called a special meeting of Nato ambassadors to discuss military operations against the Islamic State (IS) group and PKK Kurdish separatists,” invoking NATO’s article 4.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told BBC World TV the Turkish request was based on Article 4 of the Nato Treaty which allows members to request such a meeting if their territorial integrity or security is threatened.

“When Turkey requests for such a meeting I think it’s very right and very timely to have a meeting where we address the turmoil and the instability we see in Syria, Iraq and surrounding and close to Nato borders of Turkey.” …

Turkey launched air attacks against IS militants in Syria and resumed air raids against PKK camps in northern Iraq following recent attacks.

In one attack blamed on IS, 32 people were killed in a suicide bombing near the Syrian border on 20 July.

The PKK killed Turkish police in the wake of the bombing in retaliation for what they saw as Turkey’s collaboration with IS.

The raids against Kurdish separatist camps in northern Iraq in effect ended a two-year ceasefire. Turkish fighter jets launched a new wave on Sunday against PKK targets in northern Iraq, according to Turkish state media.

The situation is no longer stable; Assad is visibly on the ropes. Hugh Naylor of the Washington Post reports that Bashar Assad has confessed he no longer has the men to keep the old Syrian Arab state alive. Things are so bad that Assad has proclaimed an amnesty for deserters who return to their duties.  Unless Assad can refill the ranks he must withdraw to a rump state or get ready for the meat freezer.

As Martin Chulov of the Guardian notes, Anakara was like a juggler with a dozen plates spinning in the air. Now it must choose which plates to catch. Turkish airstrikes conducted in retaliation for a massive ISIS car bomb also threaten to undermine the secret deal between Ankara and the Jihadists in Syria.  Erdogan’s  resumption of hostilities on the Kurdish PKK party also ends a ceasefire that had been in place since 2013.

the peace process sputtered last month, prompting waves of small-scale violence as Kurds grew frustrated over what they saw as the government’s inadequate response to their demands. That sudden shift occurred as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was trying to bolster nationalist support before parliamentary elections in June.

Turkey’s resumption of raids on the P.K.K. in Iraq has heightened tensions even further — and has effectively ended the cease-fire.

“The truce has no meaning anymore after these intense airstrikes by the occupant Turkish army,” the P.K.K. said on its website on Saturday.

The offensive in Iraq was carried out as part of a double-pronged counterterrorism operation that simultaneously attacked Islamic State targets inside Syria. In a major tactical shift last week, Turkey assumed an active role in the United States-led campaign against the Islamic State, plunging into its first direct cross-border confrontations with the militants and granting the Americans access to air bases for carrying out sorties in Syria.

By calling a NATO meeting, Erdogan is passing the dilemma over to the Obama administration. Washington needs Turkish airbases to maintain its drone attacks on ISIS.  Yet to side with Anakara might mean selling out the Kurds, who have so far been Washington’s most reliable ally on the ground against ISIS. In recent a meeting with Kurdish leaders, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter called the peshmerga “the model of what we are trying to achieve”.

He said U.S. ground and air forces could defeat ISIS on their own, but the success would not last.

“We’re trying to get a defeat that sticks,” he told a group of several dozen troops. “And that can be delivered only by the people that live here,” adding, “that’s the secret sauce.”

Should Washington imperil the Turkish airbase support or give should it flush the “secret sauce” provided by the Kurds down the drain? To make things more complicated, the administration also needs Turkey’s help in its ongoing confrontation with Russia. Last week the Independent reported Washington threatened to “punish Russia by starving off its access to western credit if President Putin does not meet demands for peace in Ukraine.”  At the same time the administration tried to throw Putin a bone by supporting a Ukrainian constitutional amendment which might allow parts of the country to secede to Russia, in exchange for (it was believed in Kiev) Moscow’s support for Obama’s Iran deal.

Friedman believes that “the United States is constructing an alliance system that includes the Baltics, Poland and Romania … designed to contain any potential Russian advance [with] Turkey [as] the logical southern anchor”.  He forgot to add: “construct the alliance by buying everyone off with everyone else’s money”.   One example of a buy-off is the Washington Post‘s report that Jonathan Pollard might be released in November.

The prospect of Pollard’s release is likely to be seen as a major concession by the Obama administration to Israel at a time when the White House is lobbying intensely to prevent ­pro-Israel groups from derailing a recently negotiated agreement with Iran over its nuclear program.

Thus the Iran deal is paid for by skimming a little from Ukraine and Israeli public opinion is purchased by releasing Pollard.  Ironically this process the administration may inadvertently draw it into the very conflicts from which it is attempting to free itself.  For example, the Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum and Emre Peker describe a  deal Washington struck with Ankara involving a “no fly zone” over parts of Syria and a “safe haven” for factions in the war.

The broad sketches of the understanding include eventually relying on moderate Syrian rebels to help take control of a buffer zone along the Turkish border, according to a Turkish official who spoke on Sunday. Turkey has pledged to use its F-16 fighter jets to help clear the extremist group’s forces from a safe zone about 55 miles wide and 25 miles deep, the Turkish official added.

If rebels can take control, the area would be protected by coalition airstrikes so Syrian refugees, including some of the nearly two million living in Turkey, can return to their country, the Turkish official said.

The evolving plans open a risky new front for the U.S. in its fight against Islamic State that could falter if America and Turkey are unable to provide the moderate ground forces with the support they need to retain control of the buffer zone. American and Turkish officials said Sunday that the proposals are still a work in progress and the two countries need to hammer out significant details to make the agreement a success.

This is the new fix for the old fix. President Obama seems to have unwittingly copied the secretive, conspiratorial style which landed Turkey in its present difficulties. Andrew McCarthy, writing in the National Review complains the administration’s foreign policy consists of too many hidden side deals whose consequences nobody fully knows. Speaking of the Iran deal he writes “after a few days of misdirection, administration officials now admit that there are ‘side deals’ that the administration has not revealed to Congress and does not intend to make public. So far, we know of two ‘side deals’ — who knows how many more there may actually be?”

Who can say?  One thing’s for sure.  There will be more side deals tomorrow than there are today.  For side deals, once permitted to breed tend to multiply like rabbits. This secretive diplomacy, as if between monarchs runs counter to the very bedrock of the Constitution McCarthy argues.

Obama ran to the Security Council and rammed through a resolution commencing implementation of his Iran deal before Congress or the American people could consider it. He thus undermined American sovereignty and the Constitution by scheming to impose an international-law fait accompli. And he thus undermined American national security by transferring his inspection commitments to an international agency that he knows is not close to being capable of executing them. …

The Constitution forbids providing aid and comfort to America’s enemies. And the Framers’ notion that a president would be punishable for deceiving Congress regarding the conduct of foreign affairs meant that lawmakers would be obliged to use their constitutional powers to protect the United States — not merely shriek on cable television as if they were powerless spectators.

The more important cost of hidden side deals and complex hedging is that Congress and the entire nation are on the hook for commitments they do not understand. The president has written all kinds of checks for things that can only be dimly guessed. Only Obama’s inner circle — and perhaps not even they — fully comprehend the palimpsest of agreements to which they have agreed.

The outcome of ad hoc but secret dealmaking is what might be called virtual engagement, where the administration while publicly pretending to “end wars” actually becomes embroiled in a growing number of them.  Like Turkey, Obama’s America has no public enemies, but only the price of having no private friends.

Yet as Turkey’s experience is proving, this kind of eel-like opportunism cannot last forever.  At last the skein unravels and the plates come crashing to the ground, singly at first, then finally all at once.


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