One explanation why U.S. policies serve no national interests
On September 9th the Washington Post featured a front page article describing how the Defense Department had used warplanes to attack targets and kill suspected militants in six countries over the Labor Day weekend. The article was celebratory, citing Pentagon officials who boasted of the ability to engage “multiple targets” anywhere in the world in what has become a “permanent war.” The article did not mention that the United States is not currently at war with any of the six target countries and made no attempt to make a case that the men and women who were killed actually threatened the U.S. or American citizens.
Actual American interests in fighting a war without limits and without an end were not described. They never are. Indeed, in the U.S. and elsewhere many citizens often wonder how certain government policies like Washington’s war on terror can persist in spite of widespread popular opposition or clear perceptions that they are either ineffective or even harmful. This persistence of policies regarding which there is no debate is sometimes attributed to a “deep state.”
The phrase “deep state” originated in and was often applied to Turkey, in Turkish “Derin Devlet,” where the nation’s security services and governing elite traditionally pursued the same chauvinistic and inward-looking agenda both domestically and in foreign affairs no matter who was prime minister.
In countries where a deep state dominates, real democracy and rule of law are inevitably the first victims. A deep state like Turkey’s is traditionally organized around a center of official and publicly accepted power, which means it often includes senior government officials, the police and intelligence services as well as the military. For the police and intelligence agencies the propensity to operate in secret is a sine qua non for the deep state as it provides cover for the maintenance of relationships that under other circumstances would be considered suspect or even illegal.
It has been claimed that deep state activities in Turkey are frequently conducted through connivance with politicians who are able to provide cover for the activity, with corporate interests and sometimes even with criminal groups, which can operate across borders and help in the mundane tasks of political corruption to include money laundering. This connection of political power with the ability to operate under the radar and generate considerable cash flows are characteristic of deep state.
As all governments for sometimes good reasons engage in concealment of their more questionable activities or even resort to out and out deception, one must ask how the deep state differs. While an elected government might sometimes engage in activity that is legally or morally questionable there are normally some checks and balances in place to limit resort to such activity as well as periodic elections to repudiate what is done. For players in the deep state, there are no accountability and no legal limits and everything is based on self-interest justified through assertion of patriotism and the national interest if they are ever challenged.
Every country has a deep state of some kind even if it goes by another name. “The Establishment” or “old boys’ network” was widely recognized in twentieth century Britain. “Establishment” has often also been used in the United States, describing a community of shared values and interests that has evolved post-Second World War from the Washington-New York axis of senior government officials and financial services executives. They together constitute a group that claims to know what is “best” for the country and act accordingly, no matter who sits in the White House. They generally operate in the shadows but occasionally surface and become public, as when 50 foreign so-called policy experts or former senior officials write letters staking out political positions, as has been occurring recently. The “experts” are currently weighing in to both support and fund the campaign of Hillary Clinton, who, they believe, shares their views and priorities.
The deep state principle should sound familiar to Americans who have been following political developments over the past twenty years. For the deep state to be effective it must be intimately associated with the development or pre-existence of a national security state. There must also be a perception that the nation is in peril, justifying extraordinary measures undertaken by self-described patriots to preserve life and property of the citizenry. Those measures are generically conservative in nature, intended to protect the status quo with the implication that change is dangerous.
Those requirements certainly prevail in post 9/11 America and also feed the other essential component of the deep state, that the control should work secretly or at least under the radar. Consider for a moment how Washington operates. There is gridlock in Congress and the legislature opposes nearly everything that the White House supports. Nevertheless, certain things happen seemingly without any discussion, including the bipartisan, unconstitutional and extremely dangerous assumption of increased executive authority by the White House.
As the Post article demonstrates, there is also widespread acceptance by our country’s elites of the fiction that America is threatened and that Washington has a right to intervene preemptively anywhere in the world at any time. Unpopular and unconstitutional wars continue in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq while the American president routinely claims the meaningless title “leader of the free world” even as he threatens countries that do not adhere to norms dictated by Washington. In the case of Russia, some American leaders actually believe a potentially nuclear war can be won and should be considered while at least one general has taken steps to bring about such a conflict.
Meanwhile both targeted citizens and often innocent foreigners who fit profiles are assassinated by drones without any legal process or framework. Lying to start a war as well as the war crimes committed by U.S. troops and contractors on far flung battlefields including torture and rendition are rarely investigated and punishment of any kind is so rare as to be remarkable when it does occur.
Here at home banks are bailed out and corporate interests are protected by law. Huge multi-year defense contracts are approved for ships and planes that are both vulnerable and money pits. The public is routinely surveilled, citizens are imprisoned without being charged or are tried by military tribunals, the government increasingly cites state secrets privilege to conceal its actions and whistleblowers are punished with prison. America the warlike predatory capitalist operating with little interference or input from the citizenry might be considered a virtual definition of deep state.
Some observers believe that the deep state is driven by the “Washington Consensus,” a subset of the “American exceptionalism” meme. It is plausible to consider it a 1950s creation, the end product of the “military industrial complex” that Dwight Eisenhower warned about, but some believe its infrastructure was actually put in place through the passage of the Federal Reserve Act prior to the First World War. Several years after signing the bill, Woodrow Wilson reportedly lamented “We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated governments in the civilized world, no longer a government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.”
As I have noted, America’s deep state is something of a hybrid creature that operates along a New York to Washington axis. Where the Turks sometimes engage in unambiguous criminal activity like drug trafficking to fund themselves the Washington elite instead turns to the banksters, lobbyists and defense contractors, operating much more in the open and, ostensibly, legally. U.S. style deep state includes all the obvious parties, both public and private, who benefit from the status quo to include key players in the police and intelligence agencies, the military, the treasury and justice departments and in the judiciary. It is structured to materially reward those who play along with the charade and the glue to accomplish that comes ultimately from Wall Street. “Financial services” might well be considered the epicenter of the entire process. Even though government is needed to implement desired policies, the banksters comprise the truly essential element, capable of providing genuine rewards for compliance. As corporate interests increasingly own the media, little dissent comes from the Fourth Estate as the process plays out while many of the proliferating Washington think tanks that provide deep state “intellectual” credibility are similarly funded by defense contractors.
The cross fertilization that is essential to make the system work takes place through the famous revolving door whereby senior government officials enter the private sector at a high level. In some cases the door revolves a number of times, with officials leaving government before returning in an even more elevated position. This has been characteristic of the rise of the so-called neoconservatives. Along the way, those select individuals are protected, promoted and groomed for bigger things. The senior government officials, ex-generals, and high level intelligence operatives who participate find themselves with multi-million dollar homes for their retirement years, cushioned by a tidy pile of investments.
The deep state in American is completely corrupt because it exists to sell out the public interest and it includes both major political parties as well as government officials. Politicians like the Clintons who leave the White House “broke” and accumulate more than $100 million in a few years exemplify how it rewards its friends while a bloated Pentagon churns out hundreds of unneeded flag officers who receive munificent pensions and benefits for the rest of their lives. And no one is punished, ever. Disgraced former general and CIA Director David Petraeus is now a partner at the KKR private equity firm even though he knows nothing about financial services. More recently, former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell, who supports Hillary and is publicly advocating assassinating Russians and Iranians, has become a Senior Counselor at Clinton-linked Beacon Global Strategies. Both Petraeus and Morell are being rewarded for their loyalty to the system.
What makes the deep state so successful? It wins no matter who is in power by creating bipartisan supported money pits within the system. Unending wars and simmering though hard to define threats together invite more spending on national security and make for good business. Monetizing the completely unnecessary and hideously expensive global war on terror benefits the senior government officials, beltway industries and financial services that feed off it. Because it is essential to keep the money flowing, the deep state persists in promoting policies that otherwise make no sense, to include the unwinnable wars currently enjoying marquee status in Iraq/Syria and Afghanistan. The deep state knows that a fearmongered public will buy its product and does not even have to make much of an effort to sell it.
The United States of America is not exactly deep state Turkey but to be sure any democracy can be subverted by particular interests hiding behind the mask of patriotism buttressed by phony international threats. Ordinary Americans frequently ask why politicians and government officials appear to be so obtuse, rarely recognizing what is actually occurring in the country. That is partly due to the fact that the political class lives in a bubble of its own creation but it might also be because many of America’s leaders actually accept and benefit from the fact that there is an unelected, un-appointed and unaccountable presence within the system that actually manages what is taking place from behind the scenes. That would be the American deep state.
[This article is a lightly edited version of a paper presented at the Ron Paul Institute’s conference on peace and prosperity held on September 10, 2016 in Dulles, Virginia]
Czech Ambassador in Syria: What happened in Syria over the past five years has nothing to do with revolution
The Czech Ambassador in Damascus Eva Filipi has stressed that what happened in Syria over the past five years was not a “revolution”, rather, it was an attempt by some countries to implement their agendas which proved to be unachievable in Syria.
In her presentation during a debate on the current developments in the Middle East organized by the Czech Institute 2080, Filipi said “what is going on in Syria is a proxy regional and international war”. She added that “though many strategic experts in the West had realized what kind of situation will be created in Syria, western countries insisted to press ahead with their schemes to impose the changes they want.”
She went on to say that the Turkish and Qatari regimes wanted from the very beginning to coercively impose the “Muslim Brotherhood” as a major political player and partner in Syria, which is an issue that has been strongly rejected by Syria, therefore these two regimes stood against the Syrian government.”
She pointed out that the so-called Syrian “opposition” is still divided and it hasn’t been able to come to an agreement for more than five years, so there is no hope to reach a compromise with such an opposition. Besides, the opposition abroad is backed by some countries and it is used to defend the interests of these countries.
Filipi warned that Qatar and Saudi Arabia are using money to influence Western countries and lead them to adopt stances that support the Qatari and Saudi policies.
She wondered how western countries can make alliance with such a radical regime like Saudi Arabia.
Lebanese daily Assafir has recently published an article by journalist Mohammad Ballout. The article states that preparations and arrangements for an Assad-Erdogan meeting had begun since Erdogan’s visit to St. Petersburg on August 9th.
Interestingly, Erdogan’s visit also coincided with the visit of a senior Syrian delegation that included important security officials, including the head of the Syrian National Bureau General Ali Mamlouk, one of Assad’s most trusted advisors.
The article also states that the delegation’s visit taking place during Erdogan’s was no mere coincidence, and points to a very sharp turn that is about to take place in the Syrian War, in what is now its 5-year run.
The date of the final meeting between the two will apparently be set by General Mamlouk in his upcoming visit to Russia this Tuesday, whereat he is expected to meet with Russian and Turkish officials, whereas the actual agenda of the meet is to be finalized by Hakan Fidan, head of Turkish Intelligence.
The settlement proposed by Russia would include a tripartite national unity government that would include loyalists, independents, and representatives from the moderate Syrian opposition. They also offered the Saudis with an acceptable “out” by ruling out any major role to be played by Iran in the process.
The article also states that the Syrian delegation refused Turkey’s proposition of a sectarian division of government (akin to Lebanon), and instead proposed that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would still preside over the most important ministries: Interior, Justice, Finance, Foreign Affairs, and Defense, whereas executive ministries would be shared with the opposition and the independents. Three vice presidents will also be selected from the three factions.
It has so also been agreed that after an 18-month period, some key constitutional amendments must take place (provided they do not alter any presidential powers), to be later followed by legislative and presidential elections.
Finally, The Syrian delegation has also made commitments to issue a general amnesty for all military defectors, provided they do not partake in any activities against the Syrian army.
Second Turkish intervention into Syria; ISIS hands border town of Al-Rai over to Turkish army and affiliated groups
Part two of the theater play that began with the Turkish military’s occupation of Jarablus ten days ago continued today in the small border town of Al-Rai to the west.
Twelve Turkish tanks and a number of armored vehicles led a staged military offensive that began at around 13:30 local time on the afternoon of Saturday, September 3. Ground forces of the Turkish army crossed the border into Syria from Salahan village in Elbeyli district of Kilis province.
Local sources report that there has been no fighting in the town since the beginning of the military operation and that militants of Al-Qaeda affiliated groups also entered the town.
As the Turkish army pretends to be engaged in clashes with ISIS, rockets were earlier fired from the Al-Rai area into the Turkish city of Kilis, located northwest of Al-Rai five km from the Syrian border. Some reports say the rocket attack wounded some civilians [Anadolu Agency’s report on the rockets is here].
A larger target of the Turkish operation is the small city of Al-Bab, to the south of al-Rai. This is part of Turkey’s aim of separating the Kurdish-populated and controlled cantons east of the Euphrates River from the Afrin region in the west.
In mid-August, the Syrian Democratic Forces announced the formation of a military council of Al-Bab in anticipation of a drive to liberate the city from ISIS control. This was to follow the success of the hard battle in July and early August to liberate Manbij from ISIS. Manbij lies halfway between Jarablus and Al-Bab.
The recent Turkish coup attempt marks a turning point in NATO’s war on Syria. An emerging empire and portal to the orient, Turkey has always played a key role in NATO’s ‘Drang Nach Osten’- the drive to encircle Russia, destroy its client-states Syria and Ukraine and serve as a bulwark against other emerging powers such as Iran. But now it seems Turkey may no longer be carrying out its designated role.
Stratfor director George Friedman claims Turkey is now a world power, whose military is more powerful than the French or British. The US strategy for Europe was to force Turkish entry into the EU – most recently through weapons of mass migration. The policy worked in Turkey’s favour. But the British decision to exit the European Union changed the balance of power. Moscow took the opportunity to extend the hand of friendship once more to Ankara. Just before last week’s coup attempt, there were reports of a possible detente between Turkey and Syria.
US/Turkish relations have soured considerably since 2013 when U.S-based billionaire Fetullah Gulen fomented the Gesi Park protest movement against the Erdoğan regime. Though there was certainly popular discontent in the country with Erdoğan’s Islamisation policies and his support for terrorism in Syria, the Gesi Park protests were really about pushing Gulen’s attempt to destabilise the regime and take over. Fethullah Gulen is the founder of a vast empire of private prep schools throughout the world. He promotes an extremist form of Islam.
Though originally close to Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party, Gulen’s movement Hizmat (service) is less nationalist and therefore more amenable to US/Zionist interests. The Gulenist network operates as a fifth column in Turkey, a para-state operating at the highest levels of the military, intelligence and judicial apparatuses. I was asked by Russian state media RT to comment on the Turkish shooting down of a Russian jet in November 2015. I said then that the Turkish government was acting against the national interest. It has since transpired that the attack was carried out by Gulenist military personnel, who have been prosecuted for the crime. President Erdoğan recently apologised to Russian President Vladimir Putin for the attack. In fact, Turkey had indicated on July 13th that it intended to normalise relations with Syria, thus ending the war against Assad. Contacts between Ankara and Damascus have been growing in recent months and it now looks like Russia and Turkey may have mended relations. Southstream, Russia’s plan to pipe oil to Europe through Turkey, had to be abandoned last year due to US pressure on Ankara. There is now a possibility of renegotiation recommencing between Moscow and Ankara. Recent Turkish/Iranian contacts also indicate that the Kurdish question is forcing Ankara to recalibrate its foreign policy.
The geopolitical theories of Greek Turkologist Dmitiry Kitsikis have had a major influence on Turkish foreign policy. Kitsikis is famous for promoting the notion of Turkey as a civilisation-state which naturally encompasses the region stretching from North Africa, through the Balkans and Eastern Europe; Kitsikis refers to this as the intermediate region. Turkey’s previous ‘good neighbourly’ policy seemed to be in accordance with Kitsikian geopolitics but was sabotaged by Ankara’s collaboration with U.S. chaos strategy in the Middle East.
U.S. policy towards Turkey has been to support the regime as a strong regional power to wield against Russia while at the same time supporting the Kurdish YPG (people’s defence units) in Syria. US support for the Kurds is part of the long-term geopolitical remodelling of the region – the creation of what former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice at the start of the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings in 2011 referred to as the “New Middle East”. The U.S and Israel want to carve out a Kurdistan in the region, which would become a client-state of Israel; thus providing the Zionist regime with an effective proxy army against its Arab enemies, once the Zionist Da’esh-fomented genocide has created the Lebensraum.
Erdoğan’s ambitions of reviving the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East threatens U.S. hegemony. The United States Navy rules the waves. The U.S will not allow another major maritime power to threaten its global control. Rapid economic growth and the paying off of its IMF debt in 2013 have seen Turkey emerge more and more as a strategic regional power with increasing independence and political assertiveness. Turkish investment in Africa has increased more than ten-fold since 2000. The Turks have been investing heavily in Somalia and have opened embassies all over Africa. Turkey is selling the notion of ‘virtuous power’ in Africa with infrastructural development projects and investments designed to compete with China and the United States. Turkish involvement in Somalia has turned the East African nation into a veritable client-state of the emerging Turkish Empire. In 2015, Turkey opened a military base in Somalia. Turkey will henceforth have a strategic reach in the Gulf of Aden, one of the most important oil choke-points in the world. Turkey also has plans to establish military bases in Azerbaijan, Qatar and Georgia.
Turkey also has a strategic relationship with Ethiopia where Chinese imperialism is currently outsourcing much of its industry. The result has been the U.S-backed ‘Oromo protest’ movement. The Turkish regime has been attempting to oust the presence of the Gulenist movement in many African countries by offering to supply Turkish state funds for education. A recent statement by a Turkish government spokesman alluded to Ankara’s desire to counter Western ‘neo-colonial’ interests in Africa. The statement clearly shows that Turkey intends to join the new ‘scramble for Africa’ as part of neo-ottoman imperialism.
Turkey’s drive for world power status, together with the decline of Europe as a political entity, means that Ankara will continue to flex its muscles in the international arena. The French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has said that Turkey is no longer a reliable partner in NATO’s fight against the Islamic State. Of course, Turkey was never a partner in the war against the Islamic State as the Turkish regime has been arming and training the Islamic State terrorists along with its NATO partners and has been caught in flagrante delicto on several occasions. But what the French Foreign Minister’s remarks mean is that Turkey may no longer be as sanguine in its support for terrorism in Syria, due to the West’s support for the Kurds, rapprochement with Moscow and Damascus, and now more than ever after the failed U.S.-backed coup attempt.
That the United States was behind the coup attempt there is little doubt, though some prominent analysts such as Thierry Meyssan disagree that the coup was orchestrated by Gulenists. Fetullah Gulen is known to be close to the CIA and the U.S. obmutescence during the coup was typical of standard procedure during U.S. covert regime change operations. While Erdoğan is unquestionably a war criminal, who is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents in Syria and Libya, nonetheless, as in the case of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, the Turkish leader seems to have fallen out of favour in the West. The media have already begun the demonisation process, showing pictures of his opulent palaces etc.
Turkey will pay dearly for the folly of abandoning it’s ‘good neighbourly’ regional policy, which showed some promise until 2011. It had a glorious opportunity then to exercise ‘virtuous power’. Now, the country could be facing civil war. The purge of Gulenists in the Turkish regime has already led to hundreds of arrests of top military and government personnel. If Turkey is to emerge as a regional empire, it will have to leave the Zionist axis and find a solution to the Kurdish question in conjunction with Syria and Russia. It now looks like previous plans agreed upon by Ankara and Paris to carve out a Kurdish state in Northern Syria may be abandoned. As the French escalate bombing of Raqqa in Syria in the wake of the Nice terrorist psyops, Turkey is facing a real state of emergency.
The situation is further complicated by Israel’s stance towards the Turkish coup attempt and its aftermath. The Turkish regime thanked Israel for its help quashing the coup. Furthermore, relations between Tel Aviv and Ankara have improved, in spite of the current dispute with Washington. One should not overlook the fact that, although the Israeli Lobby exerts considerable control over U.S. foreign policy, Israel often adopts a friendlier attitude to many of America’s so-called enemies. Israel’s relationship with Belarus has been generally good, in spite of repeated U.S. aggression. Israel’s relationship with Azerbaijan for has been good, in spite of major diplomatic rows with the U.S, Israeli/Russian relations are far better than Moscow’s relationship with Washington. Israel has always had a more nuanced oriental policy than the U.S. The Israelis are masters at playing both sides off each other in conflicts. During the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s, the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein’s regime while Israel covertly supplied Iran with weapons on U.S. approval. The aforementioned Stratfor director George Friedman has said that the Iran/Iraq war would be a model for dealing with the rise of Turkey as a world power.
The United States cannot tolerate the emergence of a major maritime power like Turkey which, since the Cold War, has been used as a tool against Russia. Turkey’s Incirlik Airbase holds up to 80 percent of Washington’s nuclear arsenal in Europe. Ankara’s shift in foreign policy would signal the end of America’s drive for ‘full spectrum dominance, creating the conditions for a new imperial configuration- a geopolitical reconfiguration one could imagine as falling in with conjectures of a Moscow/Constantinople axis or ‘Third Rome’.
It is possible that the U.S. already sees that a reconfiguration of imperialist alliances is necessary with the influential former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Bzrezinski advocating a detente in U.S. relations with Russia and China. What is clear is that the world imperialist system is going through seismic changes. What prospects these changes have for working-class liberation remain to be seen.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is to hold a series of high-profile meetings with Turkish, British and Saudi leaders, among others, as part of his schedule for attending a summit in China in early September.
Yury Ushakov, a Kremlin aide, told reporters on Tuesday that Putin will hold talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on September 3, when he is in Hangzhou, China, for the summit of the group of 20 world major economies, known as G20.
Ushakov said Putin’s meeting with Erdogan will take place as the “process of normalization of relations between the two countries is under way.”
Russia downgraded ties with Turkey last November, when Ankara shot down a Russian jet near the Syrian border. Relations began to improve in July after Ankara offered an apology as demanded by Putin. The two met this month in Russia, with reports suggesting they narrowed gaps on the conflict in Syria.
Ushakov said Putin will also hold a meeting with Saudi Arabia’s powerful deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to discuss the crisis in Syria. He would not elaborate but said the meeting will come on September 4, the day when the Russian president will also hold an important meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May to discuss a need for “a new impetus in bilateral relations.”
The official said a trilateral meeting of leaders from Russia, Germany and France, which had previously been agreed to discuss the conflict in Ukraine, was called off and instead Putin would meet separately with French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on September 4 and 5, respectively. He noted that the sensitive meeting on Ukraine was cancelled because of new tensions that have emerged over Crimea, a former Ukrainian territory which rejoined Russia following a referendum in 2015.
Putin will also hold a much-anticipated meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who will be in China as a guest to G20, Ushakov said.
Syrian opposition groups allied with Turkey and supported by Ankara’s forces, on Sunday drove Kurdish fighters from three settlements near the northern Syrian town of Jarabulus, a Kurdish source told Sputnik.
On Wednesday, Ankara announced that Turkish forces, backed by US-led coalition aircraft, had begun a military operation dubbed Euphrates Shield to clear Jarabulus of militants from the Islamic State jihadist group.
“Armed groups supported by Turkey have established control over the villages of Balaban, Amarna and Dabas, south of Jarabulus,” the source said.
The source added that Syrian opposition fighters supported by Ankara were fighting in the vicinity of the Bir Qusa village, with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the number of casualties already surpassing 40 people.
Syria has been mired in civil war since 2011, with government forces loyal to President Bashar Assad fighting a number of opposition factions and extremist groups.
Turkey has been shelling Kurdish militias in northern Syria along the Turkish border for months. Ankara has claimed that the Syrian Kurds have links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist organization by the Turkish authorities.
Syrian Kurdish forces have been among the bravest and most effective in the war against ISIS in Syria. However as things stand they may well also be on course to be the most treacherous.
Whether organized under the auspices of the PYD (People’s Protection Units) or SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) there is no doubting that the role played by the Kurds in northern Syria in first resisting and now taking the fight to ISIS will go down in history. But now as the Kurds continue their advance through Raqqa Province, closing in on Raqqa from the north, it is clear that with the backing of US military forces, they are intent on exploiting the chaos of the conflict to carve out their own autonomous territory of Rojava (Western Kurdistan) with Hasakah as its capital.
Syrian concerns over the Kurds’ intentions were initially raised in March, when at a meeting in the town of Rmeilan in Hasakah Province the Kurds and their allies unilaterally declared a northern autonomous federation, which understandably the Syrian government refused to accept or recognize. In January, two months prior to the declaration of said northern federation by the Kurds, US troops had taken control of an airfield just outside Rmeilan. It doesn’t take a genius to discern a connection between both.
Indeed there is something undeniably murky when it comes to the manner in which the Americans have developed a close military alliance with the Kurds over the past few months, even at the cost of incurring the extreme displeasure of their NATO ally Turkey. It suggests that in the Kurds and various other groups that make up the SDF, the Pentagon believes it has finally fastened onto the ‘third force’ it has been trying to cultivate within the conflict as a wedge between the Assad government and ISIS with an eye on asserting a military and geopolitical presence in the country beyond the current conflict.
In this respect, there is no reason to believe that regime change in Damascus is off Washington’s table, though as with Iraq after the first Gulf War in 1990-91 the willingness of the US to abandon the Kurds as and when it suits should give the Syrian Kurds pause for thought when it comes to trusting any promises or pledges of support that come gift-wrapped in an American accent now.
The Kurds, we know, are thanks to Sykes Picot the largest stateless people in the world, spread between four nations in the Middle East – Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, along with a wider Kurdish diaspora spread mostly across Europe. There is no accurate figure when it comes to the size of the Kurdish population, but it is thought to number anywhere between 20-30 million. That being said, it would be a mistake to consider them a homogenous group. How could they possibly be so after generations spent fragmented across different countries, regarded with suspicion and mistrust and experiencing regular bouts of repression in the process?
There are 2.5 million Kurds in Syria, predominately located in the north close to the border with Turkey, and in 2011 President Assad granted 300,000 of them citizenship, a gesture his opponents and detractors in the West dismissed as instrumentalist. Regardless, Syria remains a sovereign state and its people will not accept any of its territory being cleaved off in the context of a conflict in which over 60,000 Syrian soldiers and officers have lost their lives fighting to defend that sovereignty. Some of those Syrian soldiers and officers, as British journalist Robert Fisk wrote in February, were killed courtesy of the Kurds, when after the battle for the Mineq airbase in 2013 retreating Syrian soldiers and officers made it to Kurdish-held territory only to be handed over to the Nusra by the Kurds in exchange for Kurdish prisoners. The Syrian officers were separated from the soldiers and executed.
Though it has long ceased to matter in Washington, US ground forces operating in Syria without the prior consent of the country’s legitimate government constitutes a violation of the country’s sovereignty and does not bode well when it comes to trusting US motives going forward. Where Washington is concerned neither the Syrians or Iranians or Russians are under any illusions, of course, and will no doubt be prepared for any eventuality.
There is also the no small matter of Turkey’s determination to lump the Kurds in the same box with ISIS, thus adding another layer of intrigue to this unfolding drama. The notion that Ankara would stand by while something approximating to a Kurdish state is established on its border at any time, never mind at a time when it is engaged in a military campaign to crush the PKK, is delusional in the extreme.
It was the English poet William Blake who said, “It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.” The brave men and women of the YPG and SDF could do worse than bear the wisdom of those words in mind.
The Kurds throughout their history have revealed a proclivity for accepting the support of any imperial power to further their aims of a state of their own. This has been their mistake given that whatever imperialism gives with one hand it obliterates with the other.
John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir – Dreams That Die – published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels, which are available as Kindle eBooks. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnWight1
With immaculate timing, Turkey unrolled its defiant ‘Plan B’ – billed as the Euphrates Shield operation – in northern Syria just as the US Vice President Joe Biden’s aircraft was about to land in Ankara’s Esenboga airport.
This must be one of the biggest diplomatic snubs that the US has suffered in a long while. And it is being administered by a NATO member country.
I had written yesterday in Asia Times that the US was making a monumental error of judgment by underestimating the grit of the Turkish mind to safeguard its supreme national interests at any cost. (See my article Turkey gets its act together on Syria.)
As I explained, the main purpose of the Euphrates Shield operation is to occupy the strategic border town of Jarablus in northern Syria and have a showdown with the Syrian Kurds (supported by US Special Forces and American air cover). The Kurdish militia had crossed the Euphrates river a few months ago and, contrary to American assurances, they are now moving westward to realise their dream of establishing a Kurdistan straddling Turkey’s border, stretching from Iraq to East Mediterranean coast. Turkey’s ‘red line’ has been breached.
A cat-and-mouse game has been going on between Turkey and the US. The latter was calculating that Turkey won’t act on the ground to confront the Syrian Kurds militarily, especially after the recent coup attempt of July 15, which weakened the military, plus the Russian presence in Syria.
President Recep Erdogan has decided to call the American bluff. In the early hours of the morning, Turkish artillery began pounding Jarablus (which is under the control of the Islamic State presently.) After about 2 hours of shelling, Special Forces crossed the border with F-16 jets providing air cover. The latest reports say a column of Turkish tanks is moving into Syrian territory. (Hurriyet )
The stunning part is that the Turkish incursion follows a tacit understanding with Iran (and Syria). Interestingly, Russian jets aren’t visible anywhere in the Syrian skies to stop the Turkish incursion, either. Surely, NATO is rocking, since it is highly improbable that Turkey took the US-led alliance into confidence over the Euphrates Shield operation, which, ironically, aims at destroying America’s best ally on the Syrian chessboard.
A team of Iranian intelligence officials had made a quick dash to Ankara yesterday morning to give the final touch to the concerted Euphrates Shield operation against the Syrian Kurds. The Iranian delegation presumably carried messages from Damascus for the Turkish side and returned to Tehran yesterday evening itself.
According to Iranian media reports, the deputy head of the Turkish intelligence had paid a secret visit to Damascus on Sunday. Prior to that, Turkish Foreign Minister Mavlut Cavusoglu had a stopover in Tehran on Thursday for 5 hours to personally coordinate with the Iranians – avoiding phone conversations that could have been tapped by the American electronic intelligence system. Clearly, we are witnessing the first tangible signs of a super-secret deal between Turkey and Iran to further their common agenda of preventing the emergence of a Syrian Kurdistan backed by the US and Israel connecting the Kurdish homelands between the Iraqi Kurdistan and Eastern Mediterranean. (Asharq Al-Awsat )
Turkey fears that a Syrian Kurdistan will inexorably boost the separatist Kurdish insurgency on its territory. Iran fears that Kurdistan may turn out to be the playpen of American and Israeli intelligence for undertaking subversive activities against it. Equally, Iraq and Syria also stand to lose since the creation of a Kurdistan will be at the cost of their own national unity and territorial integrity. A convergence on the Kurdish problem brings together Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Indeed, for the first time in the Syrian civil war, government forces have begun attacking Kurds. Last week the US warned Damascus not to launch aerial attacks on the Syrian Kurdish militia on the specious plea that its Special Forces are ‘embedded’ with the Kurds. (Telegraph )
If Biden had hoped for a trade-off with Erdogan over the Turkish concerns regarding Kurds, the latter is literally showing the middle finger. The Euphrates Shield is a stark message to the US that Ankara no longer depends on American goodwill or help.
Erdogan is literally signalling to Biden, ‘No more waffling, Buddy, just send Fetullah Gulen back to us’. Now, that is putting Washington in a fix. Erdogan has repeatedly warned that he will take Gulen’s extradition as the litmus test of US intentions toward Turkey and the raison d’etre of the Turkish-American alliance itself. On the other hand, how can the US possibly allow the extradition of Gulen, who has been the CIA’s longstanding ‘strategic asset’ in Muslim countries?
Biden enjoys a fabulous reputation within America’s political class as wheeler dealer par excellence. His reputation faces an acid test through the coming 12 hours. He’s just about sitting down with the Sultan at Ak Saray (White Palace) — Erdogan’s 1000-room palace in the dark and lovely woods outside Ankara — for a ‘frank’ conversation.
Read today’s column by a dear old friend Ilnur Cevik, a noted Turkish editor, in the pro-government daily Sabah, entitled Welcome to the land of the brave, Mr. Biden.
The US has pitted the Syrian Kurds against Damascus-led forces in the northeastern city of Hasakah in a bid not to lose regional influence should Turkey, Russia and Iran create an alliance to resolve the Syrian conflict, analyst and journalist Hüsnü Mahalli told Sputnik, adding that recent clashes are part of the West’s “geopolitical games.”
“Up until now Russia and Iran have helped to maintain cordial relations between the Syrian Kurds from the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Damascus. The PYD made a mistake when it opted to cooperate with the US,” he said.
Kurdish militias, assisted by the US, have been trying to push radical groups, including Daesh and al-Nusra Front from northern Syria and secure the porous border with Turkey. At the same time, the Kurds have established a de-facto autonomy in the areas under their control.
Mahalli emphasized that any efforts on the part of the PYD and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) to create an independent state will be a mistake that could not be undone.
“The Americans have repeatedly said that they have a Plan B for Syria. Perhaps, this is what they meant. I’m afraid that the US has decided to drag the Kurds into a large-scale bloodbath,” he added.
The standoff in Hasakah was sparked last week when the Kurdish forces tried to take the entire city under control, violating the ceasefire regime. The Kurds are reported to have captured large parts of government-held areas in Hasaka on Tuesday. The same day the YPG and Damascus-led forces agreed to halt fighting. The ceasefire came into force at 11:00 GMT.
The political analyst maintained that these events are part of a larger US plan for the region. “If the West is serious about its large-scale geopolitical games – and judging from what is happening in Hasakah, it is – then the situation is disturbing,” he said.
The clashes between the Kurdish militias and the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) took place at a time when a major stakeholder, Turkey, made a U-turn in its foreign policy.
Turkey recently improved relations with Russia and Iran. The two countries were swift in providing support to the Turkish authorities when a group of military officers tried to overthrow the government on July 15 despite the fact that they were on the opposing sides of the Syrian conflict. Ankara sponsored radical groups trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, while Moscow and Tehran have tried to prevent Islamist from destroying the Arab country.
Turkish authorities are currently intent on repairing relations with Damascus.
The regional balance of power, according to Mahalli, will alter even further if the three nations decide to join their efforts to bring an end to the five years of violence in Syria. This will lead to what the analyst described as Washington’s “inevitable weakening.”
Mahalli further said that Turkey has found itself in the hot water. On the one hand, approximately 15-20 million Kurds live in Turkey. On the other hand, Ankara has become the target of Islamist terrorism even though the country supported radical groups fighting in Syria.
“The only right choice Turkey could make is to admit its mistakes and act decisively to overcome the deadlock. The Turkish leadership needs to act decisively. Should it wait for the outcome of the presidential election in the US, the implications could be hard to predict. My main concern is that Turkey will ultimately be shattered,” he noted.
In exceptionally assertive remarks on Saturday, Iranian Defence Minister Gen. Hossein Dehqan said in Tehran that more numbers of Iranian military bases could be made available to Russia, depending on operational requirements, in addition to the use of the Hamadan air base by Russian bombers currently.
He added that there is no time limit set to the access given to Russian aircraft to operate out of Hamadan military base. Dehqan disclosed:
- Russian jets and bombers are free to undertake repairs and load ordnance in the Iranian base;
- Iran’s military cooperation with Russia in this respect is “strategic” in nature;
- The cooperation stems from a defence pact to upgrade military cooperation “so as to act in more harmony, particularly in the fight against terrorism”;
- The use of Iranian military bases by Russia is a topic that is beyond the purview of the Majlis (implying it is based on decision by the Supreme Leader);
- The Iran-Russia alliance aims to bring an early end to the Syrian conflict.
The big question will be whether an Iran-Russia mutual security alliance could be in the making – something akin to the Indo-Soviet Treaty of 1971.
A Moscow pundit Prof. Dmitry Yevstafyev tiptoed around the explosive theme in the weekend. He made the following key points in an opinion-piece that is presumably intended for the Western audience:
- There is “still no talk of a full-fledged military union” between Russia and Iran;
- However, the use of Hamadan is not a stand-alone event, either;
- Nor is it to be seen as a mere tactical tie-up with the narrow objective of liberating Aleppo;
- On the contrary, it rests on a solid foundation that has been laid carefully in political, military and economic terms in the Russian-Iranian relations through recent period, which in turn is predicated on a cool assessment by Moscow that the US-Iran ‘honeymoon’ has become a thing of the past;
- Russia and Iran have created together a “completely new context” in the region and aspire to be “decisive players”;
- Russia has signalled to Washington that: a) its partnership with Iran is a “strategic priority”; b) Moscow is no longer bound by US’ ‘red lines’ as regards strategic ties with Iran; c) if Hamadan tie-up is successful, “moves that will lead to an unprecedented convergence between Iran and Moscow are also possible in future”; and, d) Washington cannot stop Moscow in its tracks in the priority task of “destroying the Syrian opposition in Aleppo”;
- Russia’s tie-up with Iran has emboldened Beijing to shed its reticence and to move to “expand its assistance” to the Syrian regime with the intention to “participate in future political and economic processes”.
To my mind, the above is an accurate assessment of the trends that have surfaced. This can only mean that the balance of power in the Middle East is phenomenally shifting.
India needs to take serious note even as Minister of State MJ Akbar arrives today in Damascus on a rare visit by an Indian dignitary. (Where China goes, can India be far behind?)
To be sure, Moscow is moving speedily to create new facts on the ground before the next US president takes over the reins of the US’ Middle East policies. Moscow aims to bolster Iran’s defence capability to a point that a military strike on that country becomes a non-option for the US and/or Israel.
Conceivably, we cannot rule out that there would have been some discussions already between Moscow and Tehran regarding a mutual security alliance in the event of a military threat from a new US administration dominated by neoconservative ideologues (which could be the case in a Hillary Clinton presidency.)
Russia is speeding up the delivery of the S-300 missile system to Iran. Reports from Tehran say that the delivery will be completed within a month from now.
The Israeli military intelligence sources have been cited by Debka as claiming that Russia has deployed the formidable S-400 missile system as well in Hamadan. (Despite Iranian denials, this should not cause surprise since pictures show an unspecified number of Tu-22M3 strategic ‘Backfire’ bombers – capable of carrying nuclear missiles – and Su-34 strike fighters parked in the Hamadan air base; and it is inconceivable that a solid Russian air defence system is not deployed alongside.)
The import of the Russian-Iranian strategic congruence is sinking in regionally. Over the weekend, for the first time Syrian jets attacked Kurdish forces in northern Syria (which are protected by the US Special Forces) despite American warnings to stay clear. (Reuters )
Equally, Turkish Foreign Minister Mavlut Cavusoglu had a 5-hour meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Zarif in Tehran on August 18 to follow up on Zarif’s talks with the Turkish leadership in Ankara on August 12. Cavusoglu’s hurried trip to Tehran aimed at Turkish-Iranian coordination in the move against Kurds.
Ankara will be pleased with the prospect of Damascus taking on the Kurds, finally. In remarks Saturday in Ankara, Prime Minister Binaldi Yildirim strongly hinted at Turkey moving on the ground to prevent the emergence of a Kurdistan enclave in northern Syria (with tacit US backing). Turkey has shared interest in this regard with Tehran and Damascus.
If so, Ankara, Tehran and Damascus may find themselves on the same page sooner than one would have expected. Moscow cannot but be pleased with this prospect.(Sputnik )
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has lashed out at NATO, saying the alliance is not fully cooperating with Ankara. In an interview with Sputnik, he hinted that Turkey would consider military cooperation with Russia.
Cavusoglu says that Ankara has become alarmed at the lack of willingness shown by NATO to cooperate with Turkey, which is a member of the alliance.
“It seems to us that NATO members behave in an evasive fashion on issues such as the exchange of technology and joint investments. Turkey intends to develop its own defense industry and strengthen its defense system,” he said in an interview with Sputnik.
“In this sense, if Russia were to treat this with interest, we are ready to consider the possibility of cooperation in this sector,” Cavusoglu said when asked about the possibility of working with Russia in the defense sphere.
It is Cavusoglu’s strongest rebuke of NATO to date. In an interview with the Anadolu news agency on August 10, he said that Turkey and Russia would look to establish a joint military, intelligence, and diplomatic mechanism, while adding that relations with NATO were not as satisfactory as he would have wished.
“Turkey wanted to cooperate with NATO members up to this point,” he said. “But the results we got did not satisfy us. Therefore, it is natural to look for other options. But we don’t see this as a move against NATO,” he told Anadolu.
Meanwhile, a week ago, the Turkish ambassador to Russia, Umit Yardim, said NATO has no right to dictate foreign policy to Ankara.
“In no way can NATO limit our contacts with other countries… It means NATO has no right to dictate its terms and tell us who we should or should not meet and communicate with,” Yardim said on August 11, as cited by RIA Novosti.
The warming of relations between Turkey and Russia, which were previously at a low after a Turkish warplane shot down a Russian warplane over Syria in November, has led to apprehension in the West.
Cavusoglu also previously pointed out that there is growing resentment in Turkey due to a perception that the EU and US have only been giving mild support to Ankara in the wake of the attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 15.
Turkey has been incensed by the US’ refusal to hand over cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara believes organized the attempted coup.
The Turkish government wants Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, to be extradited to face trial at home, but Washington has repeatedly refused. The US says it needs clear evidence that there was a link between Gulen and the attempted coup before it will consider complying with Turkey’s request.
Speaking to Sputnik, Cavusoglu accused the West of treating Turkey and Russia like “second class countries” simply because they did not see eye-to-eye.
“They consider Russia and Turkey to be second class countries, and they are outraged that these second class countries dare to criticize them… Therefore, faced with the straightforwardness and resilience of Erdogan and [President Vladimir] Putin, they feel very worried and anxious,” Cavusoglu said.
Cavusoglu’s criticism was not restricted to NATO, as he launched a broadside towards the West, saying it was largely responsible for the crisis in Ukraine.
“Look at what has happened in Ukraine,” he told Sputnik. “They were always threatening the country and forcing it to make a choice between them and Russia. They were saying, ‘you will either be with us or with Russia.’ This course of action is futile. What is happening in Ukraine is a reflection of the main problems in the region.”
In contrast, the Turkish diplomat says that Ankara wants peace around the Black Sea region and does not want it to become an epicenter for tension. He called on all parties to try and find a peaceful resolution and said there needed to be greater dialogue between Russia and NATO.
“There should be no threats emerging in the region for anyone, for Turkey, for Russia or for anyone else,” Cavusoglu said.
According to the minister, the need for dialogue with Russia was apparent at the last NATO summit. “In my opinion, all existing issues should be overcome through establishing dialogue,” he added.