Daily Briefing: Erdogan’s Idlib Quagmire (September 12, 2019)

Bosphorus Bridge and Turkish Flag (Source: Wikipedia)

Table of Contents:

Putin Can’t Save Erdogan from Idlib Quagmire:  Maxim Shipenkov, Al – Monitor, Sept. 6, 2019

How Sincere Is the Turkey-Iran Friendship?: Dr. Alon J. Doenyas, BESA, Sept. 5, 2019

Why Have Relations Between Turkey and the West Deteriorated So Badly?:  Simon Waldman, N Opinion, Aug. 20, 2019

Is Turkey’s Strongman Caught in a Web of His Own Making?:  Paul A. Rahe, Law & Liberty, Sept. 10, 2019




Putin Can’t Save Erdogan from Idlib Quagmire
Maxim Shipenkov
Al – Monitor, Sept. 6, 2019

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan does not seem to be inclined toward introspection and second thoughts, but Syria may eventually be an exception. He took up the cause against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, backing the protesters and opposition forces, including jihadist outliers, as well as allowing a “two-way jihadist highway,” which contributed to the expansion of the Islamic State and the tens of thousands of terrorists now based in Idlib.

Talk about a crisis on your southern border. Erdogan fears that he could face a massive exodus of refugees from Idlib because of the fighting there. Ayla Jean Yackley reports that Turkey “is cracking down on unregistered migrants, forcing them back to camps along the border if they do not have papers. It denies reports that it has forcibly deported hundreds or thousands back to Idlib, where they face possible violence or recrimination. But officials at the Bab al-Hawa border gate were quoted as saying Turkey had expelled 8,901 Syrians in August.”

Erdogan’s seemingly “no way out” quagmire has been a windfall for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has positioned himself as his Turkish counterpart’s indispensable ally — an amazing turnaround from four years ago when Turkey shot down a Russian plane and relations spiraled downward.

But Erdogan can’t quite swallow Putin’s ultimate answer for Erdogan’s dilemma — burying the hatchet with Assad. And the United States is doing what it can to prevent Erdogan from allowing Putin and Assad to carry the day.

The Russian-Turkish agreement in September 2018 on a demilitarized zone in Idlib “has been honored more in the breach than in the observance,” Semih Idiz writes. Putin would prefer an Aleppo model, that is, to back Assad’s forces to reclaim the territory and wipe out the remaining armed opposition groups, which, according to US and UN estimates, include tens of thousands of terrorists. But doing so could unleash hundreds of thousands of refugees into Turkey, which already houses 3.6 million displaced Syrians.

Metin Gurcan got the scoop leading up to the Putin-Erdogan “ice cream summit” in Moscow Aug. 27. “Tensions in the rebel-held province shot up Aug. 19 after a Syrian fighter jet struck a pickup of the Faylaq al-Sham group escorting a Turkish military convoy, which, according to Ankara, was taking reinforcements to the Turkish observation post at Morek in the southernmost corner of Idlib,” Gurcan writes. “The situation grew into a crisis between Ankara and Moscow as Syrian forces encircled the Morek base, where about 200 Turkish soldiers are stationed, while marching into the key town of Khan Sheikhoun. … Putin was unresponsive to a request for a phone call with … Erdogan, Turkish sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Al-Monitor.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov did not exactly take up the Turkish cause, saying Aug. 26 that “no one has ever agreed that there would be no retaliation of this kind against terrorist organizations that attack [us] by fire.” … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

How Sincere Is the Turkey-Iran Friendship?
Dr. Alon J. Doenyas
BESA, Sept. 5, 2019

The horrific civil war in Syria is a matter of deep concern to both Turkey and Iran. What will Syria look like when the war ends? Who will rule? Will the country be split up? Will the Kurds of Syria try to establish an independent state? And what about the refugees who have fled to Turkey and become a burden there?

Common concerns over Syria have led to deepening ties between Ankara and Tehran, as reflected in the many high-level meetings that have occurred in recent years between officials of both countries, including presidents Erdoğan and Rouhani. Four summits on Syria have been held by Turkey, Iran, and Russia; the latest was in Sochi earlier this year and was hosted by President Putin. Photos from those summits and meetings went viral, strengthening the image of a love story in the making.

It is no secret that the beleaguered Islamic Republic has always wanted to get closer to neighboring Turkey. Whenever a more Islamic-oriented party is in power in Ankara, the Iranians approach. This occurred in the 1990s, when Erbakan was in power; the same is happening today with the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government.

Doing this makes sense from an Iranian perspective for several reasons. First, Turkey, with its population of over 80 million, is a great economic market in general, and a huge potential market for Iranian oil in particular. Second, Turkey is a regional superpower, so it is wise to be on its side. Third, and most important, the Turkic-Azeri population of Iran is estimated to be a full quarter of the Iranian population. With a Turkic minority of that size, it is sensible to keep the biggest and most important Turkic country in the world close by.
It is nevertheless questionable that Ankara and Tehran will ever get particularly close. Major obstacles stand in the way. Turkey and Iran are the two major Muslim non-Arabic players in the Middle East. Both have a good deal of territory and big populations of over 80 million. Officially, Turkey is a secular republic populated by mostly Sunni Muslims; Iran is an undemocratic Islamic Republic populated mostly by Shiites. The sects are totally different in their beliefs and method of practicing Islam. The two countries designate themselves as playing a leading role in the Muslim world, but their completely different perspectives on Islam might clash.

Moreover, Turkey has reason to worry about Tehran’s global Islamic ambitions because Iran affects all of Turkey’s Muslim-bordering countries. It is true that in Syria, neither country wants to see an independent Kurdish state emerge, and they will do what they can to prevent that from happening. But Iran has thrown its lot behind Bashar Assad’s regime, which Turkey opposes. Though the majority of the Syrian population is Sunni, the regime is Alawite (which is associated with Shiite Islam). Ankara may have wished the “Arab Spring” to culminate in a new Sunni leadership for the Sunni state, but in the absence of such a result, it does not want to watch Assad massacre his Sunni subjects. For its part, Tehran is backing the regime that is not only conducting these massacres but pushing millions to flee Syria – often for Turkey, where they are a great burden. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Why Have Relations Between Turkey and the West Deteriorated So Badly?
Simon Waldman
N Opinion, Aug. 20, 2019

In 1950, Turkey signed up as a member of the Council of Europe. A year earlier, Turkey’s foreign minister Necmettin Sadak had visited Washington, where he shook hands with his American counterpart Dean Acheson. Sadak also penned an article headlined “Turkey faces the Soviets” for Foreign Affairs explaining his country’s appreciation for financial support via the Truman Doctrine. This was named after the then US president Harry Truman who in 1947 made an important foreign policy speech to Congress outlining his determination to curb Soviet influence which involved pledging $400 million to Greece and Turkey in their fight against communism.

A year after Sadak’s visit, Ankara sent troops to fight alongside US soldiers in Korea to repel the communist North’s invasion across the 38th parallel, the latitudinal line that divided the country. That was followed by Turkey signing up to Nato in October 1951 and officially becoming a member in February 1952. Eleven years later – four years after first applying – Turkey became an associate member of the European Economic Community, the predecessor to the European Union, under the Ankara Agreement. Then foreign minister Cemal Erkin remarked that Turkey’s future and welfare were “closely bound up with Europe and European civilisation”.
Who would have thought that would lead, just decades later, to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatening to dish out an “Ottoman slap” to US forces in Syria, calling European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands “Nazis” and receiving US and EU sanctions for buying Russian weapons and drilling off the coast of Cyprus?

It begs the question: how have relations between Turkey and the West broken down so badly?

The West is not blameless. The EU stalled Turkey’s accession process repeatedly; there has been a lack of understanding of Turkey’s difficult geostrategic climate and little support during times of crises; and there have even been cases of anti-Turkish hostility. However, even when major differences existed between Turkey and the West during the Cold War era, good relations still endured.

Back then, there was a mutual enemy, the Soviet Union, which made strategic ties essential. Now there is no such common threat while the weak nature of the Turkish state, where the internal threat is greater than external enemies, has negatively affected relations with the West. So, too, have Turkey’s grandiose regional ambitions. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Is Turkey’s Strongman Caught in a Web of His Own Making?
Paul A. Rahe
Law & Liberty, Sept. 10, 2019

When it comes to extended reporting in the Western press, Turkey generally gets a pass. The country is far away, sandwiched between the Arab world, Iran, Central Asia, and the Balkan peninsula. Its language is strange and forbidding. Neither Indo-European nor Semitic, Turkish is bereft of articles, gender, and relative pronouns; replete with suffixes employed for a great variety of purposes; and characterized by a host of idiomatic expressions baffling to outsiders. Moreover, Turks tend to be reticent and, as a political community, inward-looking. They have a proud history, and they have always marched to their own drummer. Few Europeans and even fewer Americans are closely familiar with Anatolia and those who inhabit it.

This is a misfortune, for Turkey is important. The country is large, populous, and strategically situated. It controls the entrance to the Black Sea. It sits athwart the most easily traversable roads that lead from Europe to the Middle East, Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and China. Its army is large and well-trained.

During the Cold War, Turkey’s membership in NATO was a great boon for that alliance. Over the last two decades, however, the country has become increasingly uncooperative, and its relationship with the United States and the West more generally is now in question.

To some degree, this is a natural concomitant of the end of the Cold War. Alliances tend to be held together by fear focused on a common threat, and when the threat disappears and the fear recedes, alliances tend to collapse or gradually dissolve. In this case, however, the approach taken by the current Turkish government verges on outright hostility. If it persists in its determination to deploy a Russian-made radar and air defense system—a system incompatible with NATO armaments and likely to enable our adversaries to learn the capabilities of our air force—it is possible to imagine Turkey’s expulsion from NATO.

Modernization on the French Model

If one is to grasp how this hostility developed, one must first glance at the country’s past history.Turkey has long been a cultural force of importance within the Islamic world. During the Ottoman period, the rulers of Anatolia supplied Sunni Islam with its caliph; they provided the Sunni world with leadership and military protection; and at times they threatened to gain full control within the Mediterranean and to overwhelm Western Europe.
In the 19th century, the Ottoman regime began to give ground as the Christian minorities within its boundaries, encouraged by the states to the immediate west, emerged as self-conscious nations intent on achieving independence. It was at this time that, in the face of repeated humiliation, prominent Turkish-speaking loyalists began exploring the possibility of modernization on the European model within the Ottoman realm.

This process and the attendant debates, which Bernard Lewis traced in his classic work The Emergence of Modern Turkey (1969), eventually gave rise to Turkish nationalism. And where the Young Turks of the late Ottoman period stumbled and lost a great war, Mustafa Kemal, who came to be called Atatürk or “father of the Turks,” succeeded.

Like many of the Ottoman modernizers, Kemal was an army man—acutely sensitive to the technological backwardness of the polity he was called on to defend. He was also more than merely competent in French, and he was familiar with the arguments advanced by the Baron de Montesquieu and other French Enlightenment thinkers. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

For Further Reference:

Turkey Slams Israel as ‘Racist, Apartheid’ State over Netanyahu’s ‘Illegal’ Election Pledges:  Yeni Şafak, Yeni Safak World, Sept. 11, 2019 — Turkey’s foreign minister on Tuesday slammed Israel’s prime minister over his “illegal, unlawful and aggressive” messages in election pledges, saying they are part of “a racist apartheid state”.


WATCH:  Erdogan: “I Don’t Accept” Being Told Turkey Can’t Have Nuclear Weapons, US and Russia Have Them:  Realclearpolitics, Sept. 4,2019 –  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday it was unacceptable for nuclear-armed states to forbid Ankara from obtaining its own nuclear weapons, but did not say whether Turkey had plans to obtain them.


Greece and Turkey Are Playing Dangerous War Games on the Aegean Sea:  Aris Roussinos, Vice, Sept. 11, 2019 — The alarm bell rang out across the August heat at Greece’s 111 Wing fighter base, jolting two F-16 Viper pilots who’d been idly watching a Greek soap opera in their air-conditioned hut.


Russia’s Bloody Message to Turkey in Syria: Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner, Aug. 19, 2019 — Tension between Turkey and Syria spiked dramatically on Monday when Syrian-Russian axis warplanes bombed a Turkish army convoy in Syria, killing at least three civilians.