The Real Cost of Afrin: Amir Taheri, Gatestone Institute, Mar. 25, 2018— With the Turkish flag hoisted on top of the municipal building in Afrin the other day, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his supporters are in triumphal mood.
Turkey’s Syrian Battleground: Burak Bekdil, BESA, Mar. 21, 2018— In a rather theatrical show, the fall of the city of Afrin – a Kurdish enclave in northwestern Syria…
Navigating the US Collision Course with Turkey: Gregg Roman, The Hill, Mar. 5, 2018— In a rare public policy speech in mid-December, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster singled out Turkey as one of the two leading state sponsors (alongside Qatar) of “radical Islamist ideology.”
Erdogan’s Ban on Wikipedia Another Example of his Campaign Against Free Speech: Editorial, Globe & Mail, Mar. 7, 2018 — Wikipedia has entries for every Ottoman sultan.
Turkey Vows to Widen Offensive to Eastern Syria, Iraq: Suzan Fraser & Sarah El Deeb, Globe & Mail, Mar. 19, 2018
Turkey’s Syrian Battleground: Burak Bekdil, BESA, Mar. 21, 2018
“Army Of Islam”: Erdogan’s Plot Against Israel: Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 21, 2018
Turkish Leader Claims Muslim Victory Over Europe, Cites Trump’s ‘Alliance’ With Jews as Obstacle: Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz, Breaking Israel News, Mar. 21, 2018
THE REAL COST OF AFRIN
Gatestone Institute, Mar. 25, 2018
With the Turkish flag hoisted on top of the municipal building in Afrin the other day, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his supporters are in triumphal mood. In a sense they have the right to be, as this is the first time in almost 100 years that Turkey has scored a military victory against an adversary ready to fight. (Turkey’s occupation of part of Cyprus in 1974 was achieved without major fighting.)
However, the euphoria inspired by what Erdogan terms “an historic victory” would have to be tempered by reality. That NATO’s largest army in Europe should win a war against a ragtag band of lightly armed Kurds is no surprise. This is neither Alp Arsalan, after Malazegrd, nor Sultan Muhammad Fatih after capturing Byzantium.
The capture of Afrin represents a 19th century solution for a 21st century problem that Turkey faces. Judging by official statements from Ankara, Erdogan is trying to create what 19th century strategists termed a cordon sanitaire or a glacis, supposedly to protect Turkey against incursions by Kurdish “terrorists”. However, military history, at least since the debacle of the Maginot Line enterprise in 1939, shows that such concepts as cordon sanitaire and glacis are no longer relevant to modern warfare, especially of the asymmetric kind to which Turkey remains vulnerable. The classical concepts of glacis and cordon sanitaire triggered a process that would lead either to further expansion and empire-building or ultimate irrelevance. To protect a glacis you have to create another glacis next to it, and so on, ad infinitum.
Thus, Erdogan’s glacis in Syrian-Kurdish territory would need protection from neighboring areas in the rest of Syria as well as Kurdish provinces in Iraq, not to mention Iran which could, as it has done for decades, offer the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) safe haven or even operational bases against Turkey. On a more mundane level, the Kurdish “terrorists” that pose a threat to Turkey could always cross the border with little difficulty, a practice that terrorists of all ilk excel in across the globe.
Paradoxically, sole reliance on force and a determined attempt at humiliating the adversary could help rekindle the PKK’s narrative of victimhood as a justification for violence and terror. That is especially regrettable because Turkey’s Kurdish minority has done rather well under Erdogan. Those familiar with the situation on the ground in Turkey know that during Erdogan’s stewardship of the state, the country’s Kurdish-majority areas have come out of abject poverty and enjoy a measure of prosperity they had never known before.
Empirical and anecdotal evidence indicate that the PKK’s Marxist-Leninist ideology and its chimera of a proletarian state replacing the Turkish Republic have limited appeal among Turkey’s Kurds. What sympathy the PKK attracts is rooted in the cluster of so-called “identity issues”, the “them against us” that feeds secessionism even in Scotland or Catalonia. By removing many of those “identity issues”, Erdogan in the first phases of his leadership succeeded in depriving the PKK of much of its ideological fodder. That great achievement was dramatically illustrated by the public change of tone and course by a significant segment of the PKK leadership, notably its founding father the imprisoned Abdullah Ocalan.
The capture of Afrin, even supposing it will be permanent, will not solve Turkey’s Kurdish problem. But, with the law of unintended consequences being triggered, it could lead Turkey into a whole new maze of problems. Already a good part of Turk’s elite troops are bogged down in Cyprus with no end in sight. The glacis that Erdogan wants to build in Syria could end up pinning down even more of Turkey’s elite troops, provoking a strategic imbalance in the nation’s overall defense doctrine and the means needed to sustain it. And that is without mentioning economic cost of such involvements.
The Syrian glacis would also implicate Turkey in any project for recreating a new Syria out of the bits and pieces of a broken state. Other nations currently involved in the Syrian quagmire, including Russia, Iran and the United States, could easily walk away, as their presence does not have a territorial expression. Even if it decided to hang on to a base in Syria, Russia would be able to defend the enclave on the Mediterranean without seeing is own territory threatened by enemy infiltration. Iran could also withdraw its Lebanese and other mercenaries without exposing its own territory to perennial terrorist threats. Turkey, however, could get locked in the Syrian fate as Rwanda is in Congo-Kinshasa’s interminable turmoil…
TURKEY’S SYRIAN BATTLEGROUND
BESA, Mar. 21, 2018
In a rather theatrical show, the fall of the city of Afrin – a Kurdish enclave in northwestern Syria – after two months of battle between Turkish and Turkey-backed troops and Kurdish militia coincided with the 103rd anniversary of the Turkish victory in Gallipoli. Victory speeches were delivered one after another. Turks cheered in collective euphoria. Front pages were splashed with nationalistic headlines and stories of “our heroic soldiers.”
Among the scenes was footage, posted by the military, of a soldier holding a Turkish flag over a local government building. Another image showed a soldier raising and saluting a Turkish flag over the city. Even footballers who scored on the pitch, both Turkish and foreign, gave audiences a “soldier’s salute.” The opposition rushed to congratulate the “heroic Turkish army.” Some of that sentiment is real and some fake, especially considering the certainty of arrest if one expresses the slightest objection to Operation Olive Branch.
Erdoğan made contradictory speeches during the campaign. One day he promised that “conquest was near”; on another he said Turkish troops would come to Afrin to clear the city of its terrorist population and return it to its rightful owners. But he has been the main beneficiary of a newfound feeling of glory among Turkey’s increasingly nationalistic masses.
There is already speculation in political circles in Ankara that the Syrian offensive has boosted Erdoğan’s popularity by eight to nine percentage points. According to the BBC’s Mark Lowen, “President Erdoğan has achieved his twin objectives: to remove a key area under (the Kurdish People’s Protection Units) YPG control and to rally the vast majority of Turks behind their commander-in-chief. The jingoism here has been breathtaking. Targeting Turkey’s age-old enemy of the Kurdish militants is a rare uniting force in a polarized country.”
The Syrian war theater has also provided the Turkish military with the opportunity to test some of the indigenous weapons systems local defense companies have developed in recent years. In addition, the “real” military exercises in the Afrin enclave allowed Turkish commanders and defense procurement authorities to better spot technological and operational weaknesses and supremacy. For instance, Turkish drones, armed and unarmed, were intensively used and proved to be very successful assets. But Turkey’s aging US-made and German-made tanks were vulnerable to enemy fire, even when that fire did not come from a modern, regular army.
During the two-month military campaign, Turkey tested some of its new weaponry, and not only in Syria. State-controlled missile maker Roketsan tested a ballistic missile over the Black Sea. Military electronics specialist Aselsan, another state-controlled entity and Turkey’s biggest defense firm, tested its Akkor Pulat active protection system, which will be added to Turkish tanks with priority for the fleet used in Syria. Turkey also wants to add other additional defensive measures to its tanks including explosive reactive armor. Also tested recently and probably heading soon for Syria is Alkar, a 360-degree 120-mm gun system developed by Aselsan.
But then there is the political side of the military campaign in Syria. No doubt, the fall of Afrin dealt a blow to Kurdish aspirations for self-rule in northern Syria and further boosted Turkey’s growing military/political clout in the country. The main loser is the YGP, which has sought to consolidate control over Kurdish areas of Syria in the hopes of forging an autonomous state. (The YPG, which Turkey views as a terrorist organization and an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, had controlled Afrin since 2012 in addition to other swaths of territory in northern and eastern Syria.)
Alliances in the area are fragile and complex. Some Syrian Kurds welcomed the Turkish army; some fled to wage guerrilla warfare south and east of Afrin. The Kurds are not monolithic: some feel sympathy for PKK/YPG, but some campaign to break free of the two militant entities. Some Syrian fighters originally took up arms to fight President Bashar al-Assad’s regime but are now fighting the Syrian Kurds. One such fighter complained that Turkey has shifted its focus from regime change in Syria to preventing the emergence of a Kurdish belt in northern Syria. Another says the revolution had gone off course.
Erdoğan, meanwhile, has vowed that the army will not leave Afrin “before the job is done.” He says Turkey will broaden the offensive into northeastern Syria and go to Manbij, where Kurdish forces remain allied with US troops, then go east of the Euphrates and all the way up to the Syrian-Iraqi border. According to the Turkish game plan, the military offensive will not end there. Erdoğan has vowed to fight the PKK in its northern Iraqi stronghold. Press reports said on March 19 that Turkish troops, backed by air cover, had been deployed in northern Iraq amid violent clashes with PKK fighters. Kurdish local officials said Turkish forces were now stationed in the sub-district of Sidakan and had already set up fixed barracks in the border triangle between Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.
All the same, there seems to be a missing link between the military operation and its political goal. In its official language, Turkey says its army is fighting in Syria and Iraq to quash terrorists. It is, however, an open secret that the operation aims to quash Kurdish aspirations for self-rule, which Turkey fears could inspire its own Kurdish minority to demand greater autonomy.
The PKK officially launched its violent campaign in 1984. Since then, more than 40,000 people have been killed in the armed dispute, despite the arrest in 1999 of Abdullah Ocalan, PKK’s jailed leader. Some of Turkey’s Kurds aspired to take up arms long before the Iraqi Kurds consolidated power and set up an autonomous region in the country’s north after the US invasion in 2003, and before the Syrian Kurds built their own enclaves in northern Syria after the Syrian civil war in 2011. Experience shows there might not be a strong linkage between the emergence of Kurdish entities in neighboring countries and Turkish Kurds’ aspirations for self-determination…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
NAVIGATING THE US COLLISION COURSE WITH TURKEY
The Hill, Mar. 5, 2018
In a rare public policy speech in mid-December, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster singled out Turkey as one of the two leading state sponsors (alongside Qatar) of “radical Islamist ideology.” The Turkish government protested the statement as “astonishing, baseless and unacceptable,” which means it was a pretty good start. McMaster’s speech highlighted the emergence of the pernicious threat in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey.
Since McMaster’s speech, Erdoğan invaded Afrin (controlled by a U.S. ally) in Syria, resulting in the massacre of women, children and the elderly; promoted the use of child soldiers in his fight against the Kurds; and was found to have undermined U.S. sanctions against Iran. Largely missing from this discussion is why the United States continues to allow Erdoğan’s malign behavior in the region, and more important, what policymakers should do about it.
A Manhattan Federal District Court guilty verdict against a Turkish banker accused of helping Iran evade sanctions speaks volumes about the growing threat posed by Erdoğan’s Turkey. Although Erdoğan was not charged in the case, “testimony suggested he had approved the [defendant’s] sanctions-busting scheme” to launder billions of dollars for Iran beginning in 2012, according to the New York Times.
That Erdoğan was secretly weakening U.S. sanctions right when Iran was feeling the pinch should come as no surprise. He has been repositioning Turkey as an adversary of the United States for years — covertly aiding ISIS in Syria (before switching sides on a dime to align with Russian forces), overtly embracing Hamas terrorists, flooding Europe with migrants, and hosting an international summit condemning U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to name just a few of the lowlights.
While wishful thinkers still hold out hope that U.S.-Turkish relations are strained by short-term concerns and eventually will rebound, a growing chorus of voices led by Daniel Pipes believes that “Erdoğan’s hostile dictatorship” has passed the point of no return and cannot be reconciled with American interests and values. Erdoğan’s increasingly brutal methods of governance, particularly since a July 2016 failed coup attempt against his regime, is wholly unbecoming of a NATO ally. In late December, he issued an emergency decree that effectively legalizes politically-motivated lynching. For Washington, it is time to both up the ante in seeking a course correction by Erdoğan and to prepare for the worst. This path forward should be guided by the following basic principles.
No more silence: Since Erdoğan goes out of his way to lambaste the United States at every turn, Washington should make a practice of not holding back when it disapproves of his behavior. The United States should speak out against Erdoğan’s continuing oppression of minority Kurds, in Turkey and in neighboring Syria and Iraq. In particular, it should call for the release of Kurdish political leaders jailed by Erdoğan, such as Selahattin Demirtaş, co-chair of the Kurdish-dominated Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). It should invite Kurdish representatives to visit Washington for high-profile meetings at the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon.
No more favors: Last June, the United States International Trade Commission issued a report finding that Turkey has been subsidizing the sale of steel reinforcing bars (rebars) in the United States, a judgment that ordinarily leads to the imposition of anti-dumping tariffs. As of yet this hasn’t happened, but it must. More serious penalties await Turkey for purchasing the S-400 missile system from Russia last year, which clearly ran afoul of new U.S. sanctions on Russia (the manufacturer has been explicitly blacklisted by the State Department). The White House should immediately put to rest speculation that it intends to waive these penalties.
No more trust: Whichever direction Erdoğan’s ambitions take Turkey, one thing is certain — his regime cannot be trusted with sensitive military technology and intelligence. The United States should expel Turkey from the nine-nation consortium producing the next-generation F-35 fighter jet. The risk that the plane’s technological secrets will find their way from Turkey to Russia or Iran is too great. The United States should remove dozens of nuclear weapons presently stored at Incirlik air base in southern Turkey. Although adequate safeguards are in place, these weapons serve no practical purpose (aircraft stationed at the base cannot load them) and their continued presence might be misconstrued as a U.S. endorsement of Erdoğan’s reliability as an ally.
No more second chances: Erdoğan’s government arrested more than a dozen American citizens of Turkish descent (along with tens of thousands of its own subjects) in the wake of the July 2016 coup attempt — including a NASA scientist who happened to be visiting family — on unspecified suspicion of involvement. Most were denied consular access until recently and at least seven are still being held — as hostages, more or less, with Erdoğan offering to trade them for the extradition of a political rival living in the United States.
While on a May 2017 visit to Washington, Erdoğan ordered his security detail to viciously attack peaceful protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence. A similar, equally appalling episode happened when he visited in 2016. Washington must make it crystal clear to Erdoğan that egregiously violating the laws of the United States, the sanctity of its soil, or the rights of its citizens one more time will result in immediate sanctions banning him and his lieutenants from stepping foot in this country (or inside one of its embassies) ever again. In conclusion, while Turkey’s relative political stability, economic strength and military power make it a desirable ally, they also make it a formidable enemy. Now is the time to make it clear to Erdoğan and his subjects that America no longer plays nice with its enemies.
ERDOGAN’S BAN ON WIKIPEDIA ANOTHER
EXAMPLE OF HIS CAMPAIGN AGAINST FREE SPEECH
Globe & Mail, Mar. 7, 2018
Wikipedia has entries for every Ottoman sultan. There is Mehmed the Conqueror, Suleiman the Magnificent, and even lesser known grandees such as Selim the Blond. To this list, the site may soon have to add Erdogan the Censor. Not that anyone in Turkey would notice.
Since last April, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic regime has blocked the digital encyclopedia in his country for being part of a “smear campaign” against Turkey. The government said it objected to content on Wikipedia presenting Turkey as a terror supporter, but the particular offence hardly matters: Mr. Erdogan has been such a consistent and egregious foe of free expression that it would surprising if he had failed to interfere with the site. Wikipedia recently launched a public campaign to get the site back online, with the slogan We Miss Turkey.
They’ll be lucky to get anywhere. Mr. Erdogan has become shameless about blocking access to websites and needling their administrators to remove controversial content, according to the website Turkey Blocks. That crackdown is part of a much larger and nastier campaign against critics of the government launched in the wake of a failed coup in 2016. According to Human Rights Watch, Turkey has jailed more than 150 media workers in recent years. Just last month, a Turkish court sentenced three prominent journalists to life in prison for alleged involvement in the coup attempt. Mr. Erdogan’s turn to autocracy, crystallized by his victory in a referendum last year that consolidated his power, has been tragic for a country that just over a decade ago was en route to joining the European Union.
Where does Wikipedia fit into all of this? It is easy to mock, full of errors large and small. But at its best, what a miracle the site is. As a repository of the world’s knowledge, it makes the Library of Alexandria (which has a solid Wikipedia page of its own) look like a curbside book bin. Among the more than 300,000 Turkish-language Wikipedia entries, you can read about Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. Unless, that is, you live in Turkey. Mr. Erdogan is deliberately undoing Ataturk’s vision of a progressive, secular and open state. It’s clear he would prefer that no one in his country discuss that subject.
Turkey Vows to Widen Offensive to Eastern Syria, Iraq: Suzan Fraser & Sarah El Deeb, Globe & Mail, Mar. 19, 2018—Turkey’s president vowed Monday to keep up the pressure against a U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia after his troops captured the Syrian town of Afrin, threatening to expand the military offensive into other Kurdish-held areas across northern Syria and even into neighbouring Iraq.
Turkey’s Syrian Battleground: Burak Bekdil, BESA, Mar. 21, 2018—In a rather theatrical show, the fall of the city of Afrin – a Kurdish enclave in northwestern Syria – after two months of battle between Turkish and Turkey-backed troops and Kurdish militia coincided with the 103rd anniversary of the Turkish victory in Gallipoli. Victory speeches were delivered one after another. Turks cheered in collective euphoria. Front pages were splashed with nationalistic headlines and stories of “our heroic soldiers.”
“Army Of Islam”: Erdogan’s Plot Against Israel: Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 21, 2018—Less than a month ago, in advance of the summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, the Turkish daily Yeni Şafak, which is considered one of the mouthpieces of Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), published an article entitled “A Call for Urgent Action.”
Turkish Leader Claims Muslim Victory Over Europe, Cites Trump’s ‘Alliance’ With Jews as Obstacle: Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz, Breaking Israel News, Mar. 21, 2018—A prominent Turkish official has claimed that as a result of demographic trends in Europe, “Europe will be Muslim.” An expert on Islam says this “Islamization” is intentional, a form of silent Jihad explicitly described in the Quran as a way of conquering nations demographically.