Notes on Turkey, the Kurds, Incirlik, and ISIS

 

11705352_1005341582823689_7540684201876452080_nI’ve refrained from writing much about this past week’s news for a number of reasons. The first is that I’ve been deeply depressed about it, which doesn’t make for sober analysis. The second is that there are many elements of this story I don’t yet understand. I’ve been hesitant to make a categorical judgment about many of the rumors I’ve been hearing from Turkey, since I’m not there to evaluate any of them myself. The third is that there are so many aspects of this I do understand that I’m tempted to write too much, drowning everyone here in detail that’s essential — yet failing to convey the essence. The fourth, as one (good) journalist in Turkey put it on Twitter, is “[redacted’s] just too complicated. Moving too quick.”

I’m also aware how difficult it is to write about this in a way that makes sense. I remember studying the Spanish Civil War as an undergraduate and feeling so overwhelmed by the number of acronyms that I decided my exam strategy would be to play the odds, skip the Spanish Civil War, and instead master every other topic that might come up on the Modern European History finals. To this day, I could tell you all about Béla Kun, but my knowledge of the Spanish Civil War remains limited to what I learned from reading Homage to Catalonia.

So I’m not going to try to write a definitive update. I’ll just direct you to three articles, open the floor to discussion, and try to answer questions, although I may not know the answers. I’ve extracted key quotes from the articles, but if you read them in full, they’ll make more sense — not least because all these beastly acronyms refer to things that are, in fact, very different.

The first is by Patrick Cockburn, in the Independent. Cockburn is, to say the least, a controversial journalist. My rule with him is that whatever he writes is worth reading, but requires confirmation by at least two independent sources before it should be considered accurate. I include this because he’s correct to point out the potentially huge strategic consequences of US policy here. Also, in this case, everything he’s written is correct. (I haven’t confirmed his quotes, of course, but those aren’t the essential points.)

The US denies giving the go-ahead for Turkish attacks on the PKK in return for American use of Turkish air bases, or of any link with Turkish action against Isis fighters and volunteers, who were previously able to move fairly freely across Turkey’s 550-mile border with Syria.

But whatever America was hoping for, initial signs are that the Turkish government may be more interested in moving against the Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iraq than it is in attacking Isis. Ankara has previously said that it considers both the PKK and Isis to be “terrorists.” [my note — the US and Europe also consider the PKK to be terrorists. Having walked over their handiwork more than once, I can confirm that this is the correct designation.]

Meanwhile, Turkish police have stepped up suppression of all types of dissent – using water cannon against everybody from activists to members of the heterodox Shia Alevi sect, who number several million and claim they are discriminated against [my note — they claim it because it’s true]. …

The result is that the US may find it has helped to destabilise Turkey by involving it in the war in both Iraq and Syria, yet without coming much closer to defeating Isis in either country. If so, America will have committed its biggest mistake in the Middle East since it invaded Iraq in 2003, believing it could overthrow Saddam Hussein and replace him with a pro-American government.

The next is by Erik Meyersson. I almost wrote, “my friend Erik Meyersson,” but in truth we’ve never met. I’ve just been following his writing about Turkey and exchanging messages with him on Twitter for so long that I feel as if I know him. He’s a perceptive analyst of Turkish domestic politics, and this piece — Bombing the PKK: It’s the (domestic) politics, stupid! — struck me as dead on target, as his writing usually is:

The “peace talks,” “solution process,” “Imrali process,” or whatever you want to call the talks between members of the PKK and those of the Turkish government, was always an asymmetric engagement and, at best, a long shot … When the peace talks started in the late 2000s, PKK had its back against the wall, squeezed between Turkey, Iran, the KRG in Iraq, Assad in Syria, and a Europe that then still saw Turkey as promising and ripe for EU talks …

… With the Syrian civil war, Assad’s pulling back from Kurdish areas, and the rise of the Syrian Kurds, the PKK’s outside option improved markedly. With its success in Syria, PKK was no longer in such a bad state, with military successes in Sincar, and even greater political successes in its cooperation with US forces in beating back ISIS. Undoubtedly the terms demanded by the PKK likely swung into red territory for the AKP. To make things worse, the electoral success of the Kurdish party HDP made things even more complicated as the AKP would now have to negotiate with two organizations, each looking to claim specific concessions and each wanting to be seen as the main spokesperson for Turkey’s Kurds. But most damaging, the surge in “political Kurdishness” caused direct political harm to AKP in the last election, as HDP climbed above the ten percent threshold needed for parliamentary representation, scuttling an AKP supermajority in parliament and its plans for an executive-presidential constitution. As I’ve discussed previously on this blog, a large share of this surge came from Kurds previously voting for the AKP.

Bombing PKK camps in Iraq is unlikely to destroy the organization, or to weaken it to levels it can’t recuperate from. Turkey has witnessed multiple rounds of mass incarceration of Kurdish activists (recently in the KCK trials), and bombed Qandil mountains as recently as in 2011. The Turkish government probably knows it can’t defeat PKK military, so then why is it resorting to violence then?

The likely target here is instead the HDP. By striking hard at the PKK, the Turkish government is pressuring the HDP to pick a side. Either it denounces PKK to end violence, risking political blowback among its Kurdish base, or it adopts a more pro-Kurdish rhetoric, risking the ire of the Turkish public as well as the judiciary, which has a long history of banning Kurdish parties and politicians. The strain could furthermore risk breaking the HDP party, with its more pro-PKK members leaving to pursue its goals elsewhere.

As coalition talks to form a new government are stalling, Turkey may soon see another round of elections. If the current conflict results in HDP polling below the ten percent threshold, this could leave the field open for an AKP supermajority, an Erdogan presidency, and a new era of political AKP dominance in Turkish politics.

I add the third link with some hesitation, because it doesn’t begin to do justice to the complexity of Kurdish politics. But it’s a useful corrective to a tendency to romanticize an alliance with “the Kurds,” who are in fact anything but a single political entity. Let’s be realistic about Kurdistan; it’s a deeply unpleasant autocracy, writes Alastair Sloane:

Now, let’s be clear, the Peshmerga are certainly brave and they are certainly holding back ISIS, but their rulers, the Barzani clan, are dictators and gangsters. Masud Barzani isn’t meant to be president; there is a strict two term limit on the post, which he’s just ignored. When a Kurdish poet wrote a satirical piece recently poking fun at the Barzani family, he was arrested and executed. If Kurdish businessmen don’t pay the right bribes to the Barzanis, they too face arrest. Numerous journalists writing critically about the clan have simply disappeared.

“You son of a dog, if you publish that magazine tomorrow, I’ll entomb your head in your dog father’s grave,” one newspaper editor was told. Eighteen months later, he was shot dead outside his home. When Arab Spring-inspired street marches hit Kurdistan in 2011, there were over three hundred and fifty attacks on journalists by the Barzanis’ thugs. There have been hundreds more since then.

The Barzanis also appear to be overseeing a campaign of ethnic cleansing, both directly in Iraqi Kurdistan and via their affiliated fighters in Syria. They deny these charges, but diplomats and several aid workers attest to seeing Sunni Arabs driven from their homes in their thousands, their former dwellings burned to the ground. Many of the displaced Sunnis have lived there for decades, having been encouraged to move there by Saddam Hussein.

Looting, arson and forcible removal hardly seems a recipe for ongoing stability, and with the West simply standing by, often the only place for the Sunni Arabs to go is into ISIS-controlled territory.

I could clarify, update, and analyze all of this for pages and pages, but suspect it would be more confusing than helpful. The key point is that we’ve made a momentous decision — but it doesn’t seem to be one we’re much debating. And given our absurdly hesitant stance toward ISIS thus far, I want to know how we plan to use this access to Incirlik: Do we in fact plan to use it to wipe ISIS off the face of the map? If not, is it worth this price?

I’ll summarize with a comment sent to me by e-mail by a very reliable Western journalist in Turkey who doesn’t wish to be identified:

This morning was terrible. [Every time I tried to finish my article], I discovered that some even more absurd and terrible event has happened. … I was one of the first people to think that boots on the ground were needed for ISIS. But breaking an entire country, starting a war, wrecking a democracy, killing people and sending others to prison — all for what is ostensibly a desire to defeat IS but in reality a pursuit of domestic political goals both in Turkey and the USA?”

Photo credit: AFP/Ozan Kose. It was taken a few days ago in the Gazi neighborhood of Istanbul. Not Syria. Here’s some background on the neighborhood.

Published in Foreign Policy, General
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  1. jetstream Inactive
    jetstream
    @jetstream

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    jetstream:You know Claire, I read your posts and comments and understand that this all important but have the same reaction to the acronyms here as your own Spanish Civil war experience with acronyms.

    My take away is that there is something approaching an infinite number of acronyms either in conflict or at war in and around Turkey. And I don’t know who’s on first.

    By comparison the technical jargon of the stock markets is trivial.

    Would a glossary/guide help? I’m happy to write one up if you think it would.

    Yes, that would be a very big help.

    • #31
  2. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Michael Totten is someone who writes exquisitely about these issues.  Here is one of his offerings:

    http://worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/michael-j-totten/turkey-chooses-isis-over-kurds

    An excerpt:

    In Turkey, however, the conversation is different. The question over there is whether ISIS or the Kurds are the lesser of evils.

    Twenty five percent of Turkey’s population is Kurdish, and Erdogan—like most of his ethnic Turkish countrymen—are terrified that Turkey may lose a huge swath of its territory if Syrian Kurdistan liberates itself alongside Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkish Kurdistan could very well be the next domino.

    They are not crazy to fear this.

    But they’re reacting by treating as ISIS the lesser of evils. If ISIS can keep the Kurds down, Turkey’s territorial integrity is more secure.

    “ISIS commanders told us to fear nothing at all,” a former ISIS communications technician told Newsweek, “because there was full cooperation with the Turks and they reassured us that nothing will happen…ISIS saw the Turkish army as its ally especially when it came to attacking the Kurds in Syria. The Kurds were the common enemy for both ISIS and Turkey.””

    • #32
  3. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    He (Totten) adds a note suggesting that Turkey no longer qualifies for NATO membership:

    He (Erdogan) is not a state sponsor of terrorism. He is not championing ISIS, nor is he on side with them ideologically. He is not their patron or armorer. But he is letting one of our worst enemies grow stronger while stomping on one of our greatest allies.  

    We seem to be reaching the end of a road.

    NATO was formed as an anti-Russian bulwark during the Cold War, and ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union many have wondered if the alliance has outlived its usefulness. That question has been put to bed to an extent with Russian malfeasance in Georgia and Ukraine, but it’s becoming clearer by the year that Turkey’s membership in NATO is a vestige of an era that expired a long time ago.”

    • #33
  4. jetstream Inactive
    jetstream
    @jetstream

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    jetstream:Some of us are in need of a primer to understand all the intricacies.

    Yes, I’m trying to think of whether there’s a simple one I could write or direct you to. I do understand how hard this is to follow, and I’m very sympathetic. Can you point me to the places that seem especially hard to follow? I’ll try to find good basic sources that don’t take too long to read.

    Claire, your writing is superb. The deficiency is my base knowledge about Turkey and probably the region in general. After reading your analysis, I have a hazy understanding that there are some big and nasty problems that could easily get bigger and nastier, but have little to no real understanding of the problems themselves. I don’t know the players or any of their histories.

    I’m probably like a lot of Americans and maybe other of your readers in terms of my actual current knowledge of Turkey .. 1) where it is on a map, 2) member of NATO, 3) member of EU, 4) long standing low grade warfare with Greece over Cyprus, 5) Turkey’s refusal to cooperate with the second Iraq war .. those kinds of general information.

    If you could step back and think about with only that kind of general knowledge, that’s the deficiency some of us have.

    • #34
  5. lesserson Member
    lesserson
    @LesserSonofBarsham

    jetstream:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    jetstream:You know Claire, I read your posts and comments and understand that this all important but have the same reaction to the acronyms here as your own Spanish Civil war experience with acronyms.

    My take away is that there is something approaching an infinite number of acronyms either in conflict or at war in and around Turkey. And I don’t know who’s on first.

    By comparison the technical jargon of the stock markets is trivial.

    Would a glossary/guide help? I’m happy to write one up if you think it would.

    Yes, that would be a very big help.

    I could use that too.

    • #35
  6. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Zafar: no mad insistence that Kurds were Mountain Turks because….they lived in Turkey so what else could they be…)

    I’m reminded of a joke a Turkish friend once made to me about Israel. “If they were like our elders, they’d just have called the Palestinians desert Jews.

    It’s a funny joke, but it also suggests that ethnic divisions don’t necessarily go away because you declare yourself multiethnic.

    :-) easier said than done, true. But imho worth the price.

    • #36
  7. user_231912 Inactive
    user_231912
    @BrianMcMenomy

    Claire, thanks for the updates and the analysis.  I feel like I’ve been to a particularly high-quality seminar that covered in the space of several comments what others would have taken weeks to say.

    Please continue to point us toward reliable sources of intel on this ongoing situation.  We are talking about a very large and strategically important (and urgent) theater of operations, yet most of us have only a passing knowledge of the players.

    • #37
  8. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    jetstream:

    Would a glossary/guide help? I’m happy to write one up if you think it would.

    Yes, that would be a very big help.

    This guide should take you through most of the major Kurdish political parties and groupings up until 2013. He refers to some of them as “parties,” but the PKK/PJAK/YPD isn’t a party.

    The Turkish BDP was a political party when that article was written, but reorganized in 2014 and became the HDP. Political parties in Turkey have frequently been banned, especially Kurdish-oriented ones, so they tend to regroup and rename. Missing are the names of a number of PKK splinter groups, like the TAK, but as far as I can remember, they haven’t killed anyone since 2011. Kurdish Hezbullah is however still very much in existence — they aren’t related to the Lebanese Hezbullah, but they’re not something you want in to even think about. Hüda-Par is related to them and burgeoning.

    This is a list of the recently-elected political parties in Turkey and their acronyms.

    There are a number of leftist-terrorist groups that are significant here but aren’t covered in this list, like the DHKP/C, which among its other achievements is the group that bombed our embassy in Ankara in 2013; I wrote about that here.

    (This diagram isn’t one you need to study, but it should give you a sense of the history of radical leftist groups in Turkey.)

    This is a long report, but very worth reading, about the effect of arming Iraqi Kurds without a strategy, given the fractious state of Kurdish politics:

    Coalition military aid is premised on a belief that giving weapons and training to Kurdish forces, known as peshmergas, will in itself improve their performance against IS, a notion Kurdish leaders were quick to propagate. But the evolving state of Iraqi Kurdish politics makes for a rather more ambiguous picture: the dominant, rival parties, the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) and PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan), have been moving away from a strategic framework agreement that had stabilised their relationship after a period of conflict and allowed them to present a unified front to the central government as well as neighbouring Iran and Turkey. Moreover, their historic leaders, Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, are on the political wane, triggering an intra-elite power struggle. This is, therefore, a particularly fragile moment. Rather than shore up Kurdish unity and institutions, the latest iteration of the “war on terror” is igniting old and new internecine tensions and undermining whatever progress has been achieved in turning the peshmergas into a professional, apolitical military force responding to a single chain of command. In doing so, it is also paving the way for renewed foreign involvement in Kurdish affairs, notably by Iran. And it is encouraging Kurdish land grabs and a rush on resources in territories they claim as part of their autonomous region, further complicating their rapport with Sunni Arab neighbours and the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

    Although you can’t see all of it online, you can also read some of the sections I wrote for the AFPC’s 2014 World Almanac on Islamism: The chapters on Turkey and the Gülen movement are now slightly out of date, but should give you a guide to the major remaining players in Turkey.

    The other acronym you’re apt to see a lot of is MiT — the Turkish intelligence service.

    I’m sorry this is so confusing. I’ve spent years trying to figure out how to make it less confusing, but the truth is that this region is every bit as complicated as this sounds. It took Orwell to give me a sense of what the Spanish Civil War was about — and sadly, I’m not Orwell.

    • #38
  9. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @FrontSeatCat

    I’m in the group that has little understanding of this situation and it is not reported here in the US very well in MSM.  This is what I found this morning:

    http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/turkey-bombing-both-isis-kurds-linked-forces-fighting-militants-n399626

    I remember a couple months ago Claire, you said they were moving key archaeological and historical sites including an ancient tomb, and saw that as a big heads-up that something big was coming.  We had Hillary and Kerry who did nothing to bring peace to the Middle East – I am confused why Obama has a Peace Prize.

    The whole area is confusing because of the many warring tribes that have never gotten along – and the Arab spring backfired, so here we are. So many have also been trying to get Assad out and no one can seem to do it. I am sure Russia keeps the pot of turmoil stirring.  I think the egos of some of the leaders, not wanting to participate in a coalition to solve the problems, made it worse.

    I know from your writing that a big piece of your heart resides in Turkey, so this is very personal. I will sincerely pray for the Turkish people and if there is humanitarian aid that can help, please let us know. There has been too much suffering for too long.

    • #39
  10. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    jetstream: I’m probably like a lot of Americans and maybe other of your readers in terms of my actual current knowledge of Turkey .. 1) where it is on a map, 2) member of NATO, 3) member of EU, 4) long standing low grade warfare with Greece over Cyprus, 5) Turkey’s refusal to cooperate with the second Iraq war .. those kinds of general information.

    Not a member of the EU.

    I’m trying to think of the best general introduction to this subject, at article-length. Let me give this some thought: The problem with so many “introduction to the problem” articles is that they’re either boring and confusing — or wrong.

    My huge concern is that we’re making decisions like this without public debate, without public oversight — so I have to figure out some way to make this comprehensible, because that’s the only role I can really play.

    • #40
  11. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Here’s an excellent article summing up as many key points as anyone could in so few words. I know the correspondent. The correspondent knows this situation very, very well.

    … It is surely the biggest disaster in Turkish history for many years. What lies behind it is almost certainly domestic politics and a concern by Turkey’s acting government (it no longer has a majority but prudently gave itself full war powers last October) to win a second general election this year with a big nationalist majority and quell the spectre of renewed investigations into corruption. Polls suggest that this could be a bad miscalculation.

    As for the United States, its ruthless short-termism (if so it be) also seems to derive from domestic politics, more an administration desire to be seen to be doing something, than a real expectation of smashing IS, which only last week an American general admitted may take many years.

    In Washington, however, the official line is still that the negotiators had no idea of the coming attack on the PKK. Turkey is entitled to attack terrorists, seemingly regardless of proportionality, and the timing was just a coincidence. Hearing this, journalists at Tuesday’s State Department press briefing were unsurprisingly skeptical. Pace Juncker, Mogherini, Cameron and all the Western leaders who lined up to offer naïve congratulations, it is Turkish democracy rather than IS which is currently shuddering.

    • #41
  12. user_82762 Inactive
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    Claire,

    It is beyond me to follow your full understanding of the Turkish-Kurdish problem. What my point of view is focused on is the military side. The air bases, the ISIS free zone and bringing in NATO are all the right moves. NATO is given a role that is a real responsibility. Maybe this will awaken them from their decades long slumber. The air bases allow for a major military build-up. Too often people take the build-up for granted. They don’t realize how much the logistics effect the end results. Meanwhile the zone keeps ISIS at bay both from attacking Turkey and from attacking our Turkish air bases.

    The diplomatic side of the military is also very underrated. We sent people to Yugoslavia to contact Tito and his resistance during WWII. Churchill went to visit Stalin himself. We sent them weapons. We sent them P-36 tank killing aircraft which the Soviets just loved. It is inconceivable to me that we can’t make a truce with PKK and include the Peshmerga to fight the murdering, raping, monsters from Hell of ISIS. Perhaps this is beyond the trivial soft headed drips that infest the Obama State Dept. They are more concerned with what they are having for lunch at the local DC restaurant than what might be done to cement an alliance.

    There is an old saying “You can’t nail into rotten wood. It won’t make any difference.” The rot is at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. not in Turkey or Kurdistan.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #42
  13. David Knights Member
    David Knights
    @DavidKnights

    I find this all depressing.  It seems as if there is no one to be rooting for in all this.

    Additional questions.  How much is Israel doing behind the scenes to arm the FSA? Is it in the US interest to keep the warring sides at parity while they continue to kill each other, since there really doesn’t seem to be a side we can support whose success would positively effect our interests. (i.e. stable, non-threatening, semi-democratic government)

    • #43
  14. David Knights Member
    David Knights
    @DavidKnights

    James Gawron:Claire,

    It is beyond me to follow your full understanding of the Turkish-Kurdish problem. What my point of view is focused on is the military side. The air bases, the ISIS free zone and bringing in NATO are all the right moves. NATO is given a role that is a real responsibility. Maybe this will awaken them from their decades long slumber. The air bases allow for a major military build-up. Too often people take the build-up for granted. They don’t realize how much the logistics effect the end results. Meanwhile the zone keeps ISIS at bay both from attacking Turkey and from attacking our Turkish air bases.

    The diplomatic side of the military is also very underrated. We sent people to Yugoslavia to contact Tito and his resistance during WWII. Churchill went to visit Stalin himself. We sent them weapons. We sent them P-36 tank killing aircraft which the Soviets just loved.

    Jim

    Jim,  I think you meant P-39

    • #44
  15. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    James Gawron: t is inconceivable to me that we can’t make a truce with PKK and include the Peshmerga to fight the murdering, raping, monsters from Hell of ISIS.

    It doesn’t make it easier if Turkey’s bombing them.

    If this results in a full-throated destruction of ISIS, of course it’s worth it. But as of now, neither Turkey nor the US has agreed to anything beyond the opening of Incirlik. The ROEs and scope of mission remain undefined. And as of now, the US is negotiating with a caretaker government.

    And here’s the state of the Pentagon’s planning, from what we know:

    “The President did not provide a plan or explanation about how he would support this program through its logical conclusion,” the aide said, “a battle between the rebels we supported and the Assad regime.”

    That article should be read in full. If there’s a plan here, no one knows what it is.

    • #45
  16. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    David Knights: Additional questions.  How much is Israel doing behind the scenes to arm the FSA?

    Strangely enough, they haven’t told me. I doubt the Israelis would be dumb enough to put weapons into the hands of a now non-existent force; after all, these seem to end up with ISIS.

    Is it in the US interest to keep the warring sides at parity while they continue to kill each other,

    No. It is in anything but the US interest to destabilize Turkey and the KRG. You know how Jeanne Kirkpatrick drew the distinction between authoritarian and totalitarian states? She should have added a third category: chaos. We have a huge interest in preventing chaos. ISIS and Iran will be the only powers that win from chaos.

    • #46
  17. user_82762 Inactive
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    David Knights:

    James Gawron:Claire,

    It is beyond me to follow your full understanding of the Turkish-Kurdish problem. What my point of view is focused on is the military side. The air bases, the ISIS free zone and bringing in NATO are all the right moves. NATO is given a role that is a real responsibility. Maybe this will awaken them from their decades long slumber. The air bases allow for a major military build-up. Too often people take the build-up for granted. They don’t realize how much the logistics effect the end results. Meanwhile the zone keeps ISIS at bay both from attacking Turkey and from attacking our Turkish air bases.

    The diplomatic side of the military is also very underrated. We sent people to Yugoslavia to contact Tito and his resistance during WWII. Churchill went to visit Stalin himself. We sent them weapons. We sent them P-36 tank killing aircraft which the Soviets just loved.

    Jim

    Jim, I think you meant P-39

    Yep, sorry. P-39 Bell Airacobra. The Soviets did love them and we sent them lots of other goodies to keep them going. Here is Churchill visiting Stalin in 1942. Stalin was very agitated. He had hoped that the allies would invade Europe and create a second front in 1942. Again logistics made that foolhardy. Churchill told him of the North African campaign and that they had something major planned for 1943. Probably he was thinking Italy. The real invasion of Normandy didn’t happen until 1944. It takes work to hold a real alliance together.

    Churchill visits Stalin in 1942

    Strange bedfellows or not. If you want to win you must pull together.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #47
  18. Could be Anyone Member
    Could be Anyone
    @CouldBeAnyone

    James Gawron:

    -snip-

    Stalin was a self absorbed fool. The man personally oversaw the literal extinction of all opposing political variants in the Soviet Socialist Party (all of them being conveniently called reactionaries) and over a large degree of the military officer cadre (killing or imprisoning tons of experienced officers that had influence on all matters of military thinking) of the USSR which laid the bedrock foundation for the Ost Heer’s slaughter of the Red Army throughout WWII.

    I think that analogy of supporting Stalin vs the Kurds though fails as Claire stated that a major difference in supporting the Peshmerga is that they are not a consolidated group like the Red Army was under Stalin, he had eliminated all political opponents and had the military under his will completely while the diverse Kurdish Paramilitary forces operate under different commanders for similar (in some cases) and drastically different (in other cases) goals with varying political ideologies.

    • #48
  19. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @FrontSeatCat

    Claire,

    I was emailing a friend in Massachusetts, we were catching up on all sorts of things, and I mentioned your books – I looked up and sent her your link so she could educate herself about your writing, and found I had missed your blog area – never read – and just came across a certain story about a certain person living in the Poconos……….you are right, never heard of this……is he still here, and playing a part in this insidious situation in Turkey? It’s like an onion…you peel back a layer, and there are more layers – it is incredible how naive we are to what is going on, on the world stage. Truly incredible – it’s like there is a Soros behind every door.

    • #49
  20. user_82762 Inactive
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    Could be Anyone:

    James Gawron:

    -snip-

    Stalin was a self absorbed fool. The man personally oversaw the literal extinction of all opposing political variants in the Soviet Socialist Party (all of them being conveniently called reactionaries) and over a large degree of the military officer cadre (killing or imprisoning tons of experienced officers that had influence on all matters of military thinking) of the USSR which laid the bedrock foundation for the Ost Heer’s slaughter of the Red Army throughout WWII.

    I think that analogy of supporting Stalin vs the Kurds though fails as Claire stated that a major difference in supporting the Peshmerga is that they are not a consolidated group like the Red Army was under Stalin, he had eliminated all political opponents and had the military under his will completely while the diverse Kurdish Paramilitary forces operate under different commanders for similar (in some cases) and drastically different (in other cases) goals with varying political ideologies.

    Unfortunately, Stalin a murderous tyrant was necessary or the invasion of Normandy would not have happened for years longer or perhaps not at all. Tito in Yugoslavia was another example. They harassed Nazi invading armies for the entire war. If Erdogan wants to cross the border immediately with the Turkish Army then no need to worry. However, I’m not sure he is ready quite yet. Good partisans should not be wasted by bad leadership.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #50
  21. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: And it is encouraging Kurdish land grabs and a rush on resources in territories they claim as part of their autonomous region, further complicating their rapport with Sunni Arab neighbours and the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

    Michael Totten relates how much the Kurds disdain ‘Arabs’, how severely they segregate out the latter in the interest of security from their own territory.  It has enabled them to build a very safe territory.  This ‘rapport’ seems noticeable for its absence.

    I’d be willing to argue that the willingness of the Kurds to wrest control of territories away from ISIS gives them a certain priority over who is accorded dominion of the same.

    • #51
  22. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    David Knights: Additional questions.  How much is Israel doing behind the scenes to arm the FSA?

    This to me would be the most enlightening possible revelation – to find out how the Israeli’s view the various fighting groups and lines of conflict, what their objectives are, and what they forecast the future portends.

    • #52
  23. David Knights Member
    David Knights
    @DavidKnights

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Is it in the US interest to keep the warring sides at parity while they continue to kill each other,

    No. It is in anything but the US interest to destabilize Turkey and the KRG. You know how Jeanne Kirkpatrick drew the distinction between authoritarian and totalitarian states? She should have added a third category: chaos. We have a huge interest in preventing chaos. ISIS and Iran will be the only powers that win from chaos.

    Then what is the US course of action?  The parties all hate each other and have opposing, non-mutually satisfiable  goals. We might be able to pick a winner, but from what you describe there isn’t anyone we’d want to win.  Helping Turkey fight ISIS, they use it as an excuse to kill PKK, Kurds, etc.   Help the Kurds/PKK/whoever, and they destabilize Turkey.  Do nothing and either ISIS wins or Iran gets to play the role of hero in fighting them.  I just don’t see any path forward.  Help me out here Claire.

    • #53
  24. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Missing are the names of a number of PKK splinter groups, like the TAK, but as far as I can remember, they haven’t killed anyone since 2011.

    In the region, that qualifies one as a moderate.

    Thank you for the post, Claire.

    • #54
  25. David Knights Member
    David Knights
    @DavidKnights

    anonymous:

    Then, with NATO’s credibility seriously damaged, in the lame duck period between the U.S. election in 2016 and the inauguration of the new president, Russia makes its move in the Baltics, with one hand on the natural gas valve ready to cut off Western Europe if they react to the provocation.

    Plausible and frightening.

    • #55
  26. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @FrontSeatCat

    That is exactly how he (Putin) plays the game -creates the scene of aggression, then comes to the rescue – no fiction there. But there are so many bad eggs in this carton, he may meet his match. Meanwhile, the people suffer.

    • #56
  27. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    Interesting, I wonder exactly what type of protests the PUK is seeking to encourage.

    An Iraqi Kurdish official condemned on July 29 Turkey’s recent attacks against militant Kurdish targets in Iraq, Syria and inside Turkey itself, and he called for Kurdish locals in Dohuk province to protest against Turkish military bases in the region, BasNews reported. The official, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Central Council chief Adil Murad, said Turkey’s long-established military presence in Dohuk amounts to a foreign occupation.

    • #57
  28. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    Then there is Iraq’s largest pipeline where we have this:

    Saboteurs attacked on July 29 a pipeline transporting crude oil between the Iraqi city of Kirkuk and the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, halting the flow of oil, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said, Anadolu Agency and Reuters reported. The attack, which took place near the Iraqi border in Turkey’s Sirnak province, comes a day after militants attacked a natural gas pipeline in Agri province, near the Iranian border. The Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq relies on part of the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline for its own exports. The pipeline has been carrying around 300,000 barrels of oil per day, down from its maximum operational capacity of 400,000 barrels daily, because of other recent attacks, according to Iraqi government figures.

    Hmm, attacks on pipelines which affect many parties in the region Kuridstan, Turkey, Iran, Iraq but seem directed at Turkey. PKK retaliation perhaps?

    • #58
  29. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Roberto: PKK retaliation perhaps?

    Yes, seems like it.

    • #59
  30. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    David Knights: Help me out here Claire.

    I wish I could. A few problems for me in saying confidently, “Here’s what we should do.”

    1) I don’t have access to anything like the information our policy-makers do. While it seems unlikely, it’s not beyond imagination that we’re planning to use every asset we have that could fly out that base to pound ISIS back into the sand from which it crawled out. That would change my assessment of the wisdom of taking this risk, although not my assessment of the wisdom of allowing Erdogan to use the deal as cover for his domestic politics.

    2) I don’t know what’s being said behind the scenes, or why. I’m dependent on a diminishing pool of trustworthy reporters and a curated list of friends to know what’s happening on the ground. This likewise makes it hard for me to be entirely sure what’s going on.

    3) There is one thing I feel very confident in saying. A decade in Turkey taught me that we do not even try to explain our policy to the Turkish people — we as much as mock them by refusing to speak to them and posting pictures of John Kerry celebrating International Gay Whale Day on our Twitter feed all day long at times like this. We should be forcefully speaking out about every single arbitrary arrest, every newspaper shutdown, every bombing raid that’s against our interest, Turkey’s, and the Kurds. This doesn’t necessarily mean using alienating language, diplomatically: It would be enough just not to say that “We support Turkey in protecting itself” — as we have been. Every time we do that, we create an enemy of the person who was just arrested for demonstrating peacefully, or the family of the kid who was shot and killed by cops because he was out buying a loaf of bread and got caught in the cross-fire. And we create enemies out of everyone who knows that happened. We don’t have to lecture or scold, it would be enough simply to say, “In the United States, we Constitutionally protect all forms of speech, even those opposed to the government.” Turks don’t know that, because no one has told them. Here’s an article I wrote about one instance of this that absolutely floored me: (Read the whole thing.)

    Turkey wasn’t a libertarian paradise before the rise of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The United States has no good reason to intervene in Turkey’s internal affairs. Turkey’s problems are Turkey’s to solve.

    But there is one small thing I do expect.  I expect the American ambassador to tell the Turkish people the truth about our country. There is no earthly reason for him publicly to lie or prevaricate about what makes the United States an extraordinary country, unique in the world, for all its failures. There is a particular urgency to telling the truth in a country like this, moreover, where lies are spread daily about the United States by the government, the press, and by Turkey’s sycophantic intellectuals. …

    The United States has, for security reasons, moved its consulate so far away from the city center that perhaps the Americans neither smelled the gas nor heard the screams. Considering things charitably, this may be the reason U.S. officials failed either to grasp or communicate the abnormality of this situation. When one’s consulate is halfway to the Bulgarian border, it’s more difficult for diplomats to put their fingers on the pulse of the street. Perhaps that explains why, throughout this, our embassy Twitter feed consisted of nothing but irrelevant updates such as these:

    Department of State ‏@StateDept‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ 7 Jun (Video) #SecKerry‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ on#LGBT‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Pride Month: No matter where you are, and no matter who you love, we stand with you.http://youtu.be/1KeaoB-kAGY ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

    Erdoğan considers his friendship with President Obama far more valuable than that with any European leader. It was clear to all that the only hope of controlling Erdoğan was a call from the White House, one that unequivocally put the hammer down. Many Turks asked me hopefully whether the United States would now “let” Turkey have a new government. (It is widely believed here that nothing happens in Turkey without the United States’ approval.) But Obama said nothing, and the embassy remained as enigmatic and aloof as the elderly Greta Garbo. Only when Erdoğan insisted that his response to the protests had been mild compared with the U.S.’s crushing of Occupy Wall Street—he claimed that American government forces had killed 17 protesters—did the embassy issue a feeble tweet saying no, that wasn’t so. Then, some hours later, for reasons mysterious, the tweet disappeared.

    On June 17, the first working day after the storming of the park and the siege of the Divan, Ambassador Ricciardone paid a visit to the AKP headquarters. What remains of the opposition press indulged in some hopeful speculation. Radikal reported that he had been dispatched to issue a “strongly worded message to the headquarters of the ruling party.”

    If true, that message went unheeded. Speaking to reporters afterward, Ricciardone explained, “I reaffirmed our support for Turkish democracy, for the principles that we share of freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly. There is no difference between us and the government of Turkey and the governing party on those principles.” The ambassador went on: “I’m quite confident that our relations are strong and healthy. And will continue. I’m very confident about Turkish democracy. You are having a conversation within your Turkish family. The United States is not participating in it, except with full-out faith in you, the Turkish people, and the Turkish government. And we will stand by you as you have your conversation about your future. I believe this is a friendly country to the United States. It’s a good place for American trade and investment, business, visitors, tourism and I intend to enjoy the summer here in Turkey.” Asked whether he discussed the Gezi events, Ricciardone simply reiterated the United States’ support “for Turkey, Turkey’s democracy, for freedom of expression, for freedom of peaceful assembly . . . .”

    And that was it. Not one reference to what has been going on all around us. ….

    “For the principles that we share of freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, there is no difference between us and the government of Turkey and the governing party on those principles?” No difference? It may be true that we both support the principles of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. But in the United States, we also support the practice of freedom of expression and assembly, not to mention supporting freedom after the practice of free expression and peaceful assembly. To suggest that the United States and Turkey have remotely similar perspectives about these principles is ridiculous. It should insult every American, and it should insult every Turk.

    Turks are genuinely confused and misinformed about the United States. After all, they’re told daily that what they are experiencing is normal, and that this is what all “advanced democracies” do. It would have been better by far to say nothing than to confirm these lies and better still to explain that in the United States, you’re unlikely ever to be arrested for demonstrating peacefully, nor will you ever be arrested for anything you say, and that it is very much our hope that Turks will one day experience this extraordinary freedom that we cherish.

    Ricciardone’s remarks caused real harm. The Turkish government immediately exploited his words. Headlines in the local papers announced, “Gezi Park protests are not exaggerated by White House.” The deputy prime minister proudly told the nation that at least the United States, unlike those bigoted Europeans and screeching human rights’ groups, had a sense of perspective—in contrast with the international media, which persisted in “exaggerating” these “normal” incidents. At roughly the same time, media outlets associated with Erdoğan’s party—and by “associated,” I mean that on one day, seven of them ran exactly the same headline—were placing the blame for the unrest on what the state-run Anatolia media agency called the “American Entrepreneurs Institute,” which it alleged had been plotting this “coup” for months. Did Ricciardone say a word about this? No. So of course the United States didn’t exaggerate these incidents. We didn’t even acknowledge them.

    In other words, whatever was actually said in that meeting, the Turkish people learned that America had emerged from it saying: “Green light. We have no problem. Keep going.” And keep going Erdoğan’s government has. The next day, Interior Minister Muammer Güler announced that the government was preparing laws to fix “legislative gaps” in the regulation of social media—the one place where Turks might have a chance of finding actual news. The week prior, Erdoğan had described Twitter as the “worst menace to society.” It may well be a menace to Erdoğan. Unlike in Egypt, which had anything but a “Facebook Revolution,” rates of social-media penetration here are high—almost in the range of the United States. And unlike in Egypt, 90 percent of the tweets about the unrest here have originated in Turkey. In Egypt, 70 percent of the tweets originated outside of Egypt. No one misunderstood, despite the government’s soothing blandishments, what Güler was really saying: “From now on, watch your every word, because we’ll be watching yours.”

    The Turkish press has reported that the government plans to monitor social media with U.S. assistance. Obviously, as recent leaks have suggested, the United States government has considerable experience in this department. Whether it is true that the United States plans to help Turkey transform itself into an advanced police state, I don’t know. But if it is true, shame on us. If it is not, Ricciardone should have immediately rebutted the claim. He didn’t. Nor has the ambassador objected to any other slander about the United States uttered by the prime minister, his subordinates, or their press organs …

    So on this point, I am very confident. What we say matters, and matters more than most Americans could possibly imagine. That we’ve said nothing about the bombing of the PKK and the arrest of the internal opposition — and have in fact called to congratulate the government and publicly praised it — has been interpreted universally in Turkey as meaning that we deliberately cut an immensely cynical deal at their expense. It is not a stupid conclusion: It’s exactly the conclusion you’d draw under the circumstances. This is one reason for the kinds of poll results you often see that show Turks exhibit some of the highest levels of anti-Americanism in the world. (Then Americans see that and say, “Muslims. There’s just something wrong with Muslims. Well, yes: Some part of that is owed to the percentage of Turks who are hardcore Islamists and hate us because we’re gavur — infidels.  But I’d guess the much larger part of it, as much as 60-70 percent, is owed to incidents like this, which happen so often that by the time I left Turkey, I felt I was the only American there who was trying to represent my country diplomatically — and it wasn’t even that hard; when people heard me out, they changed their minds — but I’m just one woman: I don’t have the platform, the authority, or the resources to do what our Embassy could do if they just spoke to people on the street, heard what they were saying, and gave it a minute’s thought.)

    (I’m put in mind of our threads about “expert consultants.”)

    We have many negotiating levers we could use to encourage Turkey to back off on these destabilizing, authoritarian excesses. So does the EU, which is in principle (but not in good faith) negotiating with Turkey for EU accession. Perhaps we apply them behind the scenes, but if so, we never tell the Turkish public, and it’s that public with whom we need a long-term relationship, not Erdogan. We should be screaming bloody murder about the attempt to shut down the HDP, the emergence of which was the goal of this whole “peace process” — to convert a violent terrorist movement into a legitimate, non-violent political party.

    We should not provide targeting information to the Turkish air force for use against people who have been cooperating with us, and we should stop playing a game of pretending we’re not cooperating with the PKK, because we are: We should level with everyone and say, “We put this group on the terrorist list for a reason, and none of those reasons have changed, but this is a chance for the PKK to redeem itself and come off that list — we will help you defend yourselves against ISIS, gladly, but in exchange we need ironclad assurances that you will not attack our Turkish allies or each other, and there must be no ethnic cleansing in any areas you take.” We should say this publicly, to Turkey, the PKK, and the American people, and we should use every diplomatic lever we have to make sure that democratic behavior is rewarded with trade deals, legitimacy, and praise; but anti-democratic behavior is punished with ostracism, criticism, and, if ultimately needed, withdrawal of intelligence cooperation, without which none of these parties could hit the broad side of a barn.

    And we need a strategy for Syria and ISIS: Are we serious about fighting ISIS? If so, we need to show it. We need to explain — to the extent we can without telegraphing our punches — what we plan to do, so that people who are terrified of them feel some hope that allying with us (rather than Iran) might be a better strategy for staying alive (not to mention not being raped, enslaved, tortured, and beheaded). Who can blame any party to this for turning to Iran for survival if all we do is hem and haw and talk about the “56 vetted members of the FSA” that it’s taken us a year to produce? If we allow Raqqa to fall with barely a desultory airstrike?

    We need to contradict Erdogan when he lies and misrepresents our agreements — we do not need to be rude, just honest — and our Ambassador should be working the phones, calling every newspaper in Turkey and asking them why they published misleading information about what he or other US officials said. We don’t need to dictate what they write; we need only let them know that we read it and are puzzled, because it’s not what we said. Many of these editors, if they heard the Ambassador’s voice on the other end of the phone, would stand up and salute: If we act as if we’re a superpower, they’ll believe it.

    We need to use social media effectively to get our message out — this is how Turks get the news, when it isn’t blocked — and we need to protest social media bans vociferously, and work with Twitter and Facebook to get them to stop cooperating with them. (Twitter and Facebook and many other sites immediately go dark the moment they’re served with Turkish court papers. Their official policy is that they “cooperate with the laws of local countries.” Well, in this case, we should be placing phone calls to their executives saying, “Cooperate if you must, but put please put a banner on top of the site saying that the United States government has nothing to do with these laws, and would never tolerate such laws on its own soil.”) We might ask them also to put up a notice saying, “Here’s are resources that will teach you how to circumvent the ban, courtesy of the United States government.” We should also ask them to explain prominently on their sites that the content in them is heavily censored: Most Turks don’t know this.

    And we should be drowning the region in an updated version of VofA — one that looks like something someone might read in the year 2016, not 1977 — that provides honest, accurate information about what the US is doing and why. Not propaganda, just honest information. Because when you leave a huge information vacuum like that, it’s filled by Erdogan’s controlled press, and that’s the only story people get. This should, obviously, be in Turkish: That’s the language people in Turkey understand. If you go look at our US Embassy Twitter feed, your jaw will drop: If the Tweets are in English — and they almost always are — that means you are the object of our public outreach, not Turkish citizens.  That Twitter feed should be a constant, non-stop source of accurate communication between the USG and the Turkish people. Not propaganda, just accurate information about what we’ve really said, what we really believe, and rebuttals of lies told by the Turkish state media — not rudely, just factually. And there should never be a lie or an exaggeration on it: It should tell Turkish people things that they can use to make sense of what’s going on, and it should speak to them like adults. (This will be hard for our officials to grasp, because they’re so used to speaking to us like children, but if you think you want to retch on seeing the latest updates about the “25th anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act message,” or the rainbow flag on the White House, just imagine how Turks feel. This cannot be our message to them on a day when 1,000 political opponents have been hauled in for a mass arrest.)

    This kind of thing matters, and matters so much more than people understand: When we fail to stand up for any of the values we supposedly believe in, or even to explain them, we look like exactly what our worst enemies in the region say we are: blundering, arrogant, hypocritical, warmongering imperialists. And from there it is not too distant a journey to believing that the bin Ladens, al-Baghdadis, or the radical left might be telling the truth about a lot of things. Given what I’ve seen of our diplomacy, I’m surprised that so few Turks have joined these groups: But the credit goes to them, their culture, and to their parents, who’ve taught them to strive for a somewhat decent life. If I weren’t an American, and if I weren’t reasonably well-educated, I suspect my time in Turkey could well have radicalized me. (In the hard-left direction; I can’t really see myself signing up for the way women are treated by Islamists. But without a considerable academic knowledge of what the hard-left really means and its historical record, I think I would have been quite vulnerable to propaganda about “imperialist American meddling and American hypocrisy.”)

    Look, the US Embassy wasn’t even there for me when I was threatened by the Turkish state. I couldn’t even get them to answer my phone calls. What possible hope does the promise of America offer to someone who isn’t a US citizen?

    • #60
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