Events on the Turkish-Syrian border revealed how fragile the security arrangements of the last century have become. The Kurdish crisis rapidly became a Turkish/NATO one as Ankara’s offensive penetrated deeper than expected, precipitating a potential rupture with the U.S. and some European countries.
The administration responded to the invasion by threatening targeted sanctions against Turkey in coordination with Congress. The NATO dimension was underscored by a New York Times report that “over the weekend, State and Energy Department officials were quietly reviewing plans for evacuating roughly 50 tactical nuclear weapons that the United States had long stored, under American control, at Incirlik Air Base.” Even Brussels bared its gums. “EU foreign ministers unanimously agreed on Monday to ‘condemn’ Turkey’s military action … But the bloc stopped short of agreeing to an EU-wide arms embargo… instead issuing a relatively toothless pledge.”
As my last post predicted, Syria risks becoming Erdogan’s “Vietnam.” But the pressure had been building for a long time. Turkey has been NATO’s odd man out since Obama. “Since the end of the Cold War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been fraying … Islamism has been on the rise in Turkey. Everyone knew it. Whereas during the Cold War, Turkey was governed by a pro-American, secular autocracy, today it is ruled by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a totalitarian Islamist who fancies himself the sultan of the new Ottoman Empire.”
President Obama, and later, Trump, supported the Syrian Kurds in their fight against ISIS. The problem was that Turkey viewed the Syrian Kurds as terrorists who were closely aligned with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Kurdish terrorist organization in Turkey that is responsible for the deaths of more than 60,000 innocent Turks over the course of 40 years … the Obama administration refused to maintain a Patriot missile defense battery in Turkey in 2013 despite Turkey having officially requested the presence of such a system. …
In the words of Jim Townsend and Rachel Ellehuus, the two former Obama administration officials most responsible for managing the U.S.–Turkey military relationship, “Ankara came to view its missile defense requests as a litmus test for how much NATO really cared about Turkey.” … Last year, Turkey took possession of the Russian-built S-400 missile defense system after Ankara abandoned any hope of acquiring its desired Patriot missiles from the United States, its NATO partner.
The S-400 purchase prompted the Trump administration to kick Turkey out of the F-35 program in July 0f 2019. “The U.S. has removed Turkey from the F-35 joint strike fighter program, and Turkey will lose its production work on the jet by March 2020, following its acceptance of the S-400 Russian-made air defense system,” the White House announcement of the cancellation read. “The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities.”
These problems have now come to a head. By the time the Turkish offensive began, the poisonous atmosphere that already existed between Washington and its NATO ally was captured by the text of Donald Trump’s letter to Erdogan on October 9, 2019, as reported by the New York Times.
Let’s work out a good deal! You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy — and I will. I’ve already given you a little sample with respect to Pastor Brunson.
I have worked hard to solve some of your problems. Don’t let the world down. You can make a great deal. General Mazloum is willing to negotiate with you, and he is willing to make concessions that they would never have made in the past. I am confidentially enclosing a copy of his letter to me, just received.
History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way. It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!
I will call you later.
If diplomacy, in the words of Winston Churchill, “is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip,” it is doubtful Donald Trump possessed the talent to make Erdogan look forward to his destruction. Nor did Erdogan seem to mince words. He warned the EU that if they dared label his actions an invasion, “it’s very simple. We will open the gates and send 3.6 million refugees your way.”
Although European Council president Donald Tusk tried to politely tell Turkey not to use refugees to “blackmail” the EU, the “right-wing” icon Geert Wilders was not so restrained. He tweeted: “this must be done NOW: Expel Turkey from NATO. Expel Turkish Ambassador. Annul Trade Agreement with Turkey. No visa for Turkish citizens anymore. Boycot Turkish products and airlines. Cancel Schengen Treaty and reintroduce national border control and immigration policy.”
But kicking Turkey out of NATO may not prove so easy, as Stripes explains: “While Article 13 in NATO’s Washington Treaty offers a way for a county to quit, the charter is silent on how to force out a member state that has fallen out of favor … Should NATO ever decide to remove a member, it would have to amend its treaty. And that would mean getting unanimous support from all members, including Turkey.”
Problems that were once papered over have burst into the open. Liam Halligan, writing in the Telegraph, says that “beset by political dysfunction and chronic economic crisis, the EU is too dangerous to remain inside.” Indeed Boris Johnson has taken to likening Brexit to escaping from a maximum-security penitentiary. “Brexit is like the Shawshank Redemption,” he said “… but now we can see the light.” Johnson shouldn’t celebrate yet. Reuters reports that “Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is set to back a second referendum on a new Brexit agreement, the Times reported on Thursday.”
The old world order is in shambles. By October 31 the EU will lose one of its most powerful members. In Washington, the political class is paralyzed, unable to adapt to changing circumstances. Even Democratic candidates can’t agree on what constitutes a vital American interest in the Middle East. This implies that the trouble in Kurdistan is only symptomatic of greater geopolitical shifts, a small part of a larger fracture. If Turkey was willing to bomb U.S. positions, menace Incirlik’s nukes, and threaten the EU, the tripwire of U.S. lives was not the sure shield it was assumed to be.
The last few years have been one of belated realization. The cans which for decades had been kicked down the road now constitute a giant metal wall. The realities of the 21st century have outrun the politics of the 20th.
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ALSO: My opinion piece at the Wall Street Journal on what lights up the soul. Well, it’s a surprise. Man does not live by 5-year plans alone.
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Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, by Steve Coll. Winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, journalist Coll recounts, for the first time, the history of the covert wars in Afghanistan that fueled Islamic militancy and sowed the seeds of the September 11 attacks. Using firsthand accounts by key government, intelligence, and military personnel, both foreign and American, he details the secret history of the CIA’s role in Afghanistan (including its covert operations against Soviet troops from 1979 to 1989), the rise of the Taliban, the emergence of bin Laden, and the failed efforts by U.S. forces to find and assassinate bin Laden in Afghanistan.
Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, by Peter Godfrey Smith. In this book, philosopher Godfrey-Smith tells a bold new story of how subjective experience crept into being — how nature became aware of itself — a story that largely occurs in the ocean. By tracing the question of inner life back to its roots, he casts crucial new light on the octopus mind — and on our own.
The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World, by Robert Kagan. An argument for America’s role as an enforcer of peace and order throughout the world — and what is likely to happen if we withdraw and focus our attention inward.
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Open Curtains by George Spix and Richard Fernandez. Technology represents both unlimited promise and menace. Which transpires depends on whether people can claim ownership over their knowledge or whether human informational capital continues to suffer the Tragedy of the Commons.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
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Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific.