The Turkish Gambit: Erdogan Issues An Ultimatum To the US In Syria

This broke late last night/early this morning:

ANKARA – The United States needs to withdraw from northern Syria’s Manbij region immediately, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday.

President Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said Turkish forces would sweep Kurdish fighters from the Syrian border and could push all the way east to the frontier with Iraq, including Manbij – a move which risks a possible confrontation with U.S. forces allied to the Kurds.

Speaking to reporters, Cavusoglu also said Turkey wanted to see concrete steps by the United States to end its support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.

Ankara said earlier it had been told by U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster that Washington would not provide the YPG with weapons anymore.

There isn’t a lot of reporting yet on this. But this is worrisome as it would be operationally problematic for US forces to pullback from Manbij. It is also troubling because Erdogan, a NATO ally and partner of the US, specifically sought permission from Moscow for its escalating operations in Syria, not it’s US ally’s.

Moreover, less than 48 hours before the Turkish military operation — ironically dubbed Olive Branch — the Syrian regime in Damascus declared that a Turkish air operation would be met by Syrian missiles. The Syrian statement came while Turkey’s army and intelligence chiefs were in Moscow to get Russian approval and thus, the Syrian statement was interpreted as complementing a previous Russian warning against flying over Russian-controlled airspace over Syria.

The moment Turkish F-16s were in action and Turkish tanks rolled toward Afrin, no one was left with any doubt that Operation Olive Branch had the Russian green light.

The Russian position clearly indicates that the Syrian portion of the chessboard is important for Moscow in its game against Washington. Russia apparently saw a further opportunity to weaken NATO and create more fissures between Ankara and Washington by acquiescing to the Turkish military move into Afrin. The imperatives of Russia’s proxy war against the United States have preponderance over the uncertainties and problems that Turkey’s move could entail.

What we’re seeing is Erdogan’s need to shore up domestic support by targeting Syrian Kurdish groups allegedly connected to the PKK combining with Russia’s desire to drive a wedge into NATO as part of its active measures campaign against the US.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has blamed the US of trying to take control of the whole of Syrian-Turkish and Iraqi-Turkish borders by creating alternative authorities in Syria, pointing fingers at the SDF.

“Washington carries out open, and discreet delivery of arms to Syria for transfer to those groups that cooperate with them, especially to the SDF,” he said on Monday.

According to Mensur Akgun, a Turkish international relations professor, Russia’s move was understandable in light of Turkey’s firm stance on the PYD and YPG, and Moscow’s annoyance with the group’s close cooperation with the US.

“They are getting great support from the US. Washington is using the group, particularly in the east of the Euphrates [river], as a balancing force against the other powers there. They are using the group in order to increase the US presence and activities in this region,” he told Al Jazeera.

“I think this has become obvious with the announcement of the new border force planned to be set up there. Moscow, in my opinion, showed green light to Turkey’s operation to decrease the US influence in the region.”

Sergei Markov, a political analyst and a former MP from President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party, believes it was Moscow’s way of increasing tensions between Washington and Ankara.

“Russia does not publicly support such a military operation, but it opened the gate for this operation because it basically starts a proxy war between Turkey and the US [through YPG],” he told Al Jazeera.

He added that if the US, Kurds and Turkey fight each other, that would be regarded as a very positive trend by the Syrian government, which is backed by Russia and opposes all of those sides.

At this point we have to wait for more information to become available, but this is a very dangerous game being played. The US led coalition needs to maintain a presence in Manbij. It also needs to ensure that Syria’s borders are secure. Both of these have to happen as part of the campaign against ISIS. Turkey’s interest to prevent any Kurdish group from seizing and holding any ground that could be used as the basis for an independent Kurdistan, as well as its increasingly cozy relationship with Russia are very troubling signs. And as we can see with the Russians abandoning their historic support for the Kurds, the Russians are far more interested in rolling back US influence in the region and destabilizing, if not breaking, NATO than maintaining long standing support for a non state proxy. The Syrian Kurds are now learning that they are a disposable piece in Russia’s lukewarm war against the US and NATO. Given all the moving military pieces in play in the Levant, we are far more likely to stumble into something really bad happening here than almost anywhere else on the planet. The question now is, who blinks? The President or Turkey’s Erdogan?

Stay frosty!

Open thread.

101 replies
  1. 1
    JGabriel says:

    Adam L. Silverman @ Top:

    It is also troubling because Erdogan, a NATO ally and partner of the US, specifically sought permission from Moscow for its escalating operations in Syria, not it’s US ally’s.

    I guess Erdogan knows who’s really in charge of the White House these days.

  2. 2
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @JGabriel: Yes, but… Erdogan, in addition to the domestic shift towards authoritarianism under the facade of democracy, has also shifted his foreign policy approach over the past five years or so. He seeks to reassert Turkey’s historic role as both the regional hegemon in the Middle East, as well as reestablishing Turkey as the North-South and East-West bridges from Europe into the Middle East and from Europe and the Middle East into Central and SE Asia. His involvement in the Syrian Civil War has always been about this. And about checking Saudi’s attempt to become the regional hegemon.

  3. 3
    Corner Stone says:

    The question now is, who blinks? The President or Turkey’s Erdogan?

    Is it a question of “blinking”? That presupposes, IMO, either capitulation or confrontation. This isn’t just a political gambit by Erdogan that can be all show and no go? Kill some Kurds and declare a Safe Zone or something short of killing a US soldier?

  4. 4
    Brachiator says:

    Holy shit. A recent BBC News Hour story assembled experts on the region. The host asked bluntly, what does Turkey want from the US. Now we know.

    It was also pointed out that the US supported it’s Kurdish allies in Syria because they showed that they were able to fight ISIS, and supporting the Kurds was preferable to inserting US troops.

    But with ISIS rolled back, the question was whether the US would view them as expendable, since everyone seemed to prefer maintaining established borders. This means that the US would not support or encourage any attempt by the Syrian Kurds to establish any formal alliance with other Kurds.

    However, it seems to me that if the US cuts the Kurds loose, no one would ever trust the US again.

  5. 5
    sdhays says:

    The question now is, who blinks? The President or Turkey’s Erdogan?

    This is a joke, right?

  6. 6
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Corner Stone: Any escalation of force in the areas where the US has Special Operations Forces (SOF) providing training support for the Syrian Kurdish groups puts those personnel in harms way. Especially if the Turks start with the F16s.

  7. 7
    trollhattan says:

    IMO Erdogan is a monster actively turning Turkey into a Putin-style autocracy at nearly any price. NATO membership makes the relationship especially tricky while EU membership is roadkill. Would be interesting to see how much influence he’d have if Flynn were still in the administration.

  8. 8
    Corner Stone says:

    @Brachiator:

    However, it seems to me that if the US cuts the Kurds loose, no one would ever trust the US again.

    Aren’t we like on Round 4 of betraying the Iraqi Kurds?

  9. 9
    JGabriel says:

    Deleted by author due to moderation.

  10. 10
    Brachiator says:

    @Corner Stone:

    Aren’t we like on Round 4 of betraying the Iraqi Kurds?

    We betrayed the Iraqi Kurds. Now we are betraying the Syrian Kurds.

    Pretty soon we will run out of Kurds.

  11. 11
    JMG says:

    Dear Mr. Silverman: Your closing question assumes that the President knows any of this is happening, which I submit is a fact not yet in evidence.

  12. 12
    Steeplejack says:

    For Trump to blink, first he’d have to realize that there is a crisis at hand. Besides Jay-Z being uppity with him, I mean.

  13. 13
    JGabriel says:

    Same error as before – accidentally reposted original comment rather than revised comment.

  14. 14
    Yutsano says:

    @Adam L Silverman: He has to know he can’t do this while also trying to reclaim old Ottoman caliphate ambitions. It’s a delicate balancing act that I don’t think Erdoğan has the skills necessary to pull it off. Plus anyone with a pulse paying attention here knows the next push is to attack the Kurds in Turkey. Erdoğan might finally be going too far except he’s letting his generals get their war on against a hated minority.

    And without a State Department worth a shit, this will get very ugly very fast.

  15. 15
    Brachiator says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    And about checking Saudi’s attempt to become the regional hegemon.

    Isn’t he also seeking to check Iran?

  16. 16
    PIGL says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Beyond those regional-strategic points you mention, how much of this is predicated on what I can only call Turkey’s perpetual pogrom against its Kurdish minority? Does NATO really still need Turkey? How does Turkey, in the 2020s, prevent the onslaught of Russian tanks into west germany? By which I mean, maybe now would be a good time to consider what the role of NATO really is, given that it’s putting the USA into an impossible dilemma, in a region that is only of questionable importance to the security of the North Atlantic states.

  17. 17
    JGabriel says:

    Adam L. Silverman @ Top:

    The question now is, who blinks? The President or Turkey’s Erdogan?

    Does anyone really think Trump would go against, disagree with, or openly criticize Putin or Erdogan? Trump will probably praise their manly military aggressiveness and criticize America for being wussy peaceniks (or some other similarly Nixonian / Safiric locution leavened with Trumpian stupidity).

  18. 18
    Corner Stone says:

    The US led coalition needs to maintain a presence in Manbij.

    Looks like the main question from our side now is, “How quickly can we pull back across the Euphrates?”

  19. 19
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Brachiator: Unfortunately this decision isn’t going to be made by the commanders forward – LTG Funk, Commander Combined Joint Task Force Operations Inherent Resolve (CJTF OIR) and III Corps and MG White, Combined Joint Force Land Component Commander and Commander 1st Armored Division. Nor will it be made by GEN Votel at CENTCOM. The decision on what to do is going to come from the National Command Authority. If it was up to the folks on the ground or to GEN Votel, I have no doubt they’d continue doing what they’re doing now: backing the Syrian Kurdish groups.

    Full disclosure: I served as MG White’s cultural advisor from OCT 2007-NOV 2008 and was deployed with him in Iraq. I served as the Cultural Advisor (Temporarily Assigned Control) at III Corps from JAN-NOV 2012. I served as a Senior Fellow for Special Operations at SOCOM when GEN Votel was SOCOM Commander.

  20. 20
    JPL says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I don’t mean to sound flippant, but who does Trump listen to, his generals or Erdogan.

  21. 21
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @trollhattan: EU membership has largely been dead since the 90s for a variety of reasons.

  22. 22
    Corner Stone says:

    @PIGL:

    in a region that is only of questionable importance to the security of the North Atlantic states.

    Can you please define what “region” means in this quoted bit?

  23. 23
    Redshift says:

    I’m so old I remember when we had a fully staffed state department to advocate for our interests in difficult situations with foreign countries. And an administration that wanted to advocate for American interests…

  24. 24
    Yutsano says:

    @Adam L Silverman: It almost seems like Erdoğan has pretty much given up on trying.

  25. 25
    M31 says:

    Stories like this help me remember that Russia isn’t pro-Trump it’s anti-US.

    Trump was just the fastest and surest way to degrade US power/legitimacy/respect in the world, and it’s been heckofajobBrownie all the way down.

  26. 26
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Corner Stone: @Brachiator: In the last go round, when Barzani tried to declare independence, we opposed him and supported the Talabanis. The Talabanis, for now, seek to keep Iraq united. So that one is a wee bit complex.

  27. 27
    JGabriel says:

    @Brachiator:

    However, it seems to me that if the US cuts the Kurds loose, no one would ever trust the US again.

    I suspect Trump may have already achieved the goal of destroying any international trust in the US.

  28. 28
    Brachiator says:

    @Yutsano:

    He has to know he can’t do this while also trying to reclaim old Ottoman caliphate ambitions. It’s a delicate balancing act that I don’t think Erdoğan has the skills necessary to pull it off.

    He may be in a good position to pull it off. Who is going to oppose him? Not Britain or France, which previously had interests in the area. And Turkey is a NATO member. Would that organization turn on one of its own?

    Israel? Very unlikely. This would be a trap and they have no clear way to justify any involvement.

    Turkey seems to have Russia’s permission. That leaves the US, which doesn’t seem to have a foreign policy anymore.

  29. 29
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Brachiator: To a certain extent yes. But Iran is allied to, and a partial client of, Russia now. So he seeks to prevent them from becoming the regional hegemon, not being the protector of the Shi’a. It is a strange balancing act.

  30. 30
    Citizen_X says:

    @JGabriel:

    Trump will probably praise their manly military aggressiveness and criticize America for being wussy peaceniks

    “I’d be TUFF, so tuff! Unfortunately, [somehow Obama is stopping me].”

    Sounds idiotic, yes, but Fox & the Repubs in Congress will repeat it until it makes sense.

  31. 31
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @PIGL: Turkey has become a problematic NATO ally because of the Erdogan government. I’m not really sure how you’d separate out Turkey from NATO as long as Turkey officially still wants to be in NATO.

  32. 32

    Every indicator of Trump’s motivation says that he will give Erdogan what he wants, except one: Incompetence. At this point, we must assume the US military has been operating without presidential oversight for a year, ever since the botched Yemen raid scared Trump away from playing with his toy soldiers. It’s quite possible a general will say “Look, President Trump, there’s a colored boy on the Trump White House lawn, Trump Trump Trump!” and after Trump finishes ranting, has his ice cream and his afternoon nap, Trump won’t remember what they were talking about. Then the Joint Chiefs make the decision themselves, I guess.

  33. 33
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @JPL: From his own remarks, he listens to himself. From his actions he listens to Fox and Friends, Hannity, and Pirro.

  34. 34
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Yutsano: Yes, because during the 90s and 00s every time the Turks actually got close to finishing jumping through hoops, someone in the EU set up a whole new set. In the 90s it was the French under Chirac. Despite their official statements, they clearly didn’t want Turkey in the EU. The Turks got the message.

  35. 35
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Frankensteinbeck: Perhaps the one bright spot here was the loosening of decision making authority and pushing it down to the commanders on the ground. That said, I still don’t see how the decisions on this get made without input from the National Command Authority.

  36. 36
    Mike in NC says:

    With pro-Putin governments in Turkey, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, NATO membership doesn’t seem to mean as much as it used to.

  37. 37
    Brachiator says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    If it was up to the folks on the ground or to GEN Votel, I have no doubt they’d continue doing what they’re doing now: backing the Syrian Kurdish groups.

    Yeh. This makes a lot of sense.

    What a mess.

    Anyway, thank you so much for your comments and insights.

    As far as I could tell, US media was largely ignoring what Turkey has been doing.

  38. 38
    Yutsano says:

    @Brachiator: It’s hard to see Iran and Saudi Arabia allowing a greater expansion into Middle East influence, especially if Erdoğan gets ideas about Istanbul being the true head of Islam again. Erdoğan could still overplay his hand here, as Europe is still a major trading partner with Turkey. The one thing not in doubt is that if someone doesn’t stand up here Turkey could try to pull off another genocide here, and I highly doubt Putin would stand in their way if it got what he wanted.

  39. 39

    @Adam L Silverman:
    The Secretary of Defense is exactly the person most likely to pull the “Squirrel!” routine on Trump, though.

  40. 40
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Mike in NC: You don’t know much about Poland, do you?

  41. 41
    JGabriel says:

    @Brachiator:

    Anyway, thank you so much for your comments and insights.

    Seconded.

  42. 42
    Mnemosyne says:

    @M31:

    Stories like this help me remember that Russia isn’t pro-Trump it’s anti-US.

    Yup. And Putin had dozens of willing allies in the Republican Party who hate the US almost as much as he does.

  43. 43
    Libraryguy says:

    Hi folks,

    I got a DM from someone asking about our store (Tis the Season Dec. 11 2017) so I thought I’d do a quick update.

    First, let me thank everybody who sent us support, emotional and otherwise; it felt great to have so many people reach out! We received almost 50 orders by the end of the year, which was a huge help for our family. If you didn’t see it when John posted my thank you before, let me just say it again – thanks, everyone!

    We eventually had to close our brick and mortar store on December 31; the landlord was inflexible and nothing had opened up in town, and still hasn’t. The only possibility turned out to be someone hoping to have us sublet 20% of his space for 60% of his total rent. :( We are continuing the online store though, and have new consignment products all the time. If you liked what you ordered before or want to get something for Valentine’s Day, we’d love it if you’d think of us.

    Lastly, we lost our Rosie just after the first of the year. She got a viral respiratory infection that was too much for her. She was one of the sweetest, funniest pups I’ve ever met.

  44. 44
    Calouste says:

    @PIGL: Turkey is in NATO so they don’t go to war with Greece.

  45. 45
    gene108 says:

    At some point, one of the sides involved in this mess has to win. The other sides will lose and suffer badly. No one in charge over there wants to share power. They want to be autocrats, with no limits on what they can do.

    If people over there decided they could share power and come to some sort of power sharing arrangement, none of this would have ever started.

    But people over there don’t seem to embrace governments, where power is shared between various factions.

  46. 46
    Brachiator says:

    @Yutsano:

    It’s hard to see Iran and Saudi Arabia allowing a greater expansion into Middle East influence,

    Goddam. I need to download the recent BBC News Hour Extra program again. One guest made the point that Iran is good at injecting itself into Shi’a countries and territories, but not in fulfilling any greater regional ambition. And I may be mangling this, I ain’t no expert and don’t pretend to be.

    Also, Saudi Arabia has it’s own internal problems to contend with, and would also need US support to check Turkey in any significant way. That is, even allowing for Russia Saudi friendliness, I think that US support might still be important.

  47. 47
    Chris says:

    @Mike in NC:

    Turkey, Hungary and Czech Republic yes, Poland? My impression was that, right-wing and authoritarian though they may be, they’re still very much on the “don’t trust the Russians” bandwagon.

  48. 48
    Corner Stone says:

    @gene108:

    At some point, one of the sides involved in this mess has to win.

    I say we start a betting pool on when. After the last millennia or so, it’s gotta run out of steam sometime soon, amirite?

  49. 49
    Tehanu says:

    @Brachiator: @JGabriel: I’d be astonished to learn that anyone outside our borders trusts us now.
    @M31: @Frankensteinbeck: What you guys said.

  50. 50
    PIGL says:

    @Corner Stone: I mean Turkey, Syria, Iraq. From the end of WW2 until the 1990s, one could tell a story about the nefarious Soviets planning pincer movement from the south. I don’t know think there is much danger of that now. Energy security? The Russians still have sell their oil and gas to somebody, and the infrastructure points west. So although my knowledge of high strategy is next to nill, I don’t see how Turkey is of such colossal importance to the world that we need to accommodate their position re the Kurds. Except, perhaps, as Calouste noted, to keep them from marching on Athens.

  51. 51
    Chris says:

    @Tehanu:

    I’d be astonished to learn that anyone outside our borders trusts us now.

    The Kurds don’t have a hell of a lot of options when it comes to foreign allies, so…

  52. 52
    Betty Cracker says:

    @M31:

    Stories like this help me remember that Russia isn’t pro-Trump it’s anti-US.

    Trump was just the fastest and surest way to degrade US power/legitimacy/respect in the world…

    A thousand times THIS.

  53. 53
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Brachiator: I’m pretty sure if it was up to LTG McMaster, Secretary Mattis, and/or Gen Dunford they’d back the Kurds as well. But none of these guys have the final say.

    As for the US media, they have their hands full and have demonstrated a marked inability to walk while walking, let alone walk and chew gum at the same time.

  54. 54
    Cermet says:

    For better or worse, Turkey is a NATO ally and we have really no viable options – stay and greet the Turks while not interfering with their attack (American troops have served under Turkish Command) or withdraw and return to Iraq. Confrontation is insane and would be highly dangerous for everyone long term; that is, unless we hope to topple Erdoğan. That later idea leads to disaster on too many levels to think we’d do that. Europe has fucked over Turkey for far too long for them to ever consider that they can join. Its deal with the local power structure or be isolated and passed by – that is not the way Turks handle things anymore, I’d think. Putin is getting everything he dreamed of by installing the orange fart cloud.

  55. 55
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Yutsano: Erdogan already has that notion in his head. Part of the undiscussed portion of the Syrian Civil War is that it has always been a 3 way proxy war for regional hegemony between Saudi, Iran, and Turkey, each of them making the conflict worse in an attempt to achieve their own objectives.

  56. 56
    Baud says:

    @gene108:

    At some point, one of the sides involved in this mess has to win.

    Smart money is on China.

  57. 57
    PIGL says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I understand re the “problematic ally”. I don’t mean that active measures should be taken to kick them out of NATO, I meant rather to imply that the risk of their leaving on their own need not be given a lot of weight in deciding how to deal with the present situation. We don’t need to cater to their Kurdish position, at least not on grounds of keeping Turkey in NATO. On the grounds of avoiding a shooting war with them, well maybe. On keeping them from the arms of Russia? I don’t think so….Erdogan’s Islamist policies put a limit on that, I would have thought.

  58. 58
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @gene108: @Corner Stone: What we’re seeing, in a lot of ways, in the Levant is akin to the 30 years war. Or how WW I never really ended, just went low intensity before reigniting in an interstate war in WW II.

  59. 59
    Baud says:

    If only Jared weren’t so busy brokering peace between the Isrealis and the Palestinians..,

  60. 60
    patrick II says:

    I am bringing up something old, but something I have wondered about for a long time. If Obama had in fact enforced his red line, as it appeared he had every intention of doing, would that have made any difference in the Syria we see today? Assad would have lost a good part of his air force at a time when the rebels were stronger. Not attacking also opened the door for the Soviets to come in as “peacemakers” as a “neutral” party and remove the illegal gas weapons, but that opened door and the soviet presence only grew.
    So, my questions are:
    Would the Soviets found another way in? Protecting Assad was always their goal, but we made it awfully easy for them.
    Would Erdogon be quite so bold without Soviet air now stationed in Syria?
    Did the rebels ever have a real chance and we blew the opportunity? Or was it always going to end this way?

  61. 61
    Stan says:

    @Brachiator:

    it seems to me that if the US cuts the Kurds loose, no one would ever trust the US again.

    You mean like we cut loose the Hmong in Vietnam?

    Or the Italian partisans in 1945?

    I don’t know why anyone trusts us, period.

  62. 62
    Stan says:

    who blinks? The President or Turkey’s Erdogan?

    “No blink, absolutely no blink folks, fake news, Hillary blinked….”

  63. 63
    Corner Stone says:

    @PIGL:

    I mean Turkey, Syria, Iraq.

    Ok, thanks. It looked like you were addressing Adam’s larger “regional hegemon” theory (I think), but then finished with saying it wasn’t very important to the security of NATO. I could have been reading that wrong.
    If I did catch the nut of your meaning, I would say I disagree. There’s a very compelling argument to be made that what happens in the Turkey-Syria-Iraq region weighs heavily on how NATO moves forward in the near-ish future.

  64. 64
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @patrick II: I’m not sure. It would have depending on what action was taken. A decapitation strike on the Assad government? Significant reduction in the Syrian military?

    The larger issue, then and now, is that none of the Syrian stakeholders can agree on what would come after Assad goes. Even the various rebel groups that are all in agreement that Assad has to go have nothing even remotely close to a consensus on what comes next.

  65. 65
    Baud says:

    @Stan:

    I don’t know why anyone trusts us, period.

    Same reason anyone trusts anyone on the international stage: self-interest and expediency.

  66. 66
    Stan says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    What we’re seeing, in a lot of ways, in the Levant is akin to the 30 years war. Or how WW I never really ended, just went low intensity before reigniting in an interstate war in WW II.

    Absolutely this.

  67. 67
    debbie says:

    I cannot even imagine. If this country abandons the Kurds, we will have zero credibility and zero moral authority for the rest of time. We will never get either back.

  68. 68
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Stan: I’ve only been saying it since 2011.

  69. 69
    debbie says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    But none of these guys have the final say.

    So, Miller?

  70. 70
    Cermet says:

    @debbie: When haven’t we cut and run when things turn out rotten. Our credibility is also tied to NATO and frankly, that supersedes any other issue. Can’t see us opposing the Turks regardless of what you say. Putin’s long term goal is to break up NATO so he can secure his western front as he pulls all the “lost” areas back under russian control. Chechnya was a prime example even as the eastern Ukraine and Crimea has also fallen. Logically speaking, I’d do the same if I was him.

  71. 71
    patrick II says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    When Obama decided to go to congress to get approval the Republicans vehemently opposed him. It seemed to me at the time that they were more interested in their eight year quest to do as much harm to the Obama presidency that they were in any policy. If, in the long run, it made no difference, then I guess there is nothing to regret. However, if things might have turned out differently, we lost an very important opportunity to republican blind racist hatred.

    I have no doubt how they would have voted with a republican in office.

  72. 72
    Le Comte de Monte Cristo, fka Edmund Dantes says:

    OT, but what is it with old white people and bad nostalgia? I’m in a citywide Facebook group “Good Old Days” where people put up photos of city scenes and street corners from the past.

    My irritation sets in when purveyors of lamentable food, drink and entertainment are remembered fondly as “that was the best”, just because something was available to them in the heyday of their youth. A lot of it was shit, as I remember, and the things they remember most fondly were whiter than white.

    My greatest ire is reserved for when they laud an amusement park that I know was officially segregated and off limits to people of color, all while the commenters remark on how much better things were then.

  73. 73
    Cermet says:

    Has anyone else confirmed this “Breaking News”?

  74. 74
    Vhh says:

    @Brachiator: It’s not like anyone trusts us now, though, is it?

  75. 75
    John Revolta says:

    @patrick II: In an area where it’s very hard to see any positive results at all for quite some time to come, I believe Obama’s “Don’t do Stupid Shit” policy still looks pretty good.

  76. 76
    Vhh says:

    @Brachiator: prob wants the Ottoman empire back.

  77. 77
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Chris: Well, since the chairman of the ruling party believes Putin murdered his brother, I’d say “don’t trust” is a pretty anodyne formulation.

  78. 78
    Amir Khalid says:

    @patrick II:

    Would the Soviets found another way in?

    ??

  79. 79
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @patrick II: I’m well aware of how the process played out. I’m also of the professional opinion that the intelligence on who was responsible for that attack was not good enough to be actionable. Despite the red line warning, and despite Congress’s fecklessness, not responding was the correct move absent a larger strategy of intervention to respond to the civil war.

  80. 80
    John Revolta says:

    @Le Comte de Monte Cristo, fka Edmund Dantes: Riverview! Western at Belmont!

  81. 81
    raven says:

    @John Revolta: Laugh your troubles away!!!

  82. 82
    Robert Sneddon says:

    The US is in the position of actively supporting military Kurdish forces whose strategic end-game is the dismembering of a NATO ally, that is Turkey. Any Kurdish nation-state would have to be created by redrawing borders in that region with or without the agreement of existing nation-states.

    With an agreement — isn’t gonna happen, at least not on the part of Turkey which has been a unitary nation-state for a century now since Attaturk and has spent blood and treasure ever since defending those borders (anyone here familiar with where Gallipoli is?). Iraq? Baghdad says nope. Syria, maybe if Assad gets overthrown and the rebel Syrians agree to give up a big chunk of their territory to a bunch of outsiders which is unlikely, and besides the Syrian rebels have been fighting Assad and each other for fifteen years and more now without much of a result and no real hope of winning so they’re in no position to actually make that kind of decision. Which other country is going to cut off a chunk of their territory and hand it over to a bunch of outsiders with guns and further territorial ambitions?

    Without an agreement — lots of shooting and bloodshed, terrorism, random attacks and warlordism, the sort of efforts that the PKK and its ilk have been trying for thirty years and more to the tune of hundreds of thousands dead and massive societal disruption of the sort that leads to dictatorships and Strong Men and nationalism all through the region.

    Saying that the US-supported extra-national military groups are Good and the Russian-supported extra-national military groups are Bad (and Assad has more claim to be the legitimate government of Syria than anyone else around despite his Strong Man position and lack of democracy) simplifies the situation to that of a cowboy Western and its colour-coded hats. Cowboy diplomacy in the Middle East does not have a good record.

    As for membership of the European Union/EEC, Turkey wanted to join from back in the 1990s but there was one major prerequisite they couldn’t get past, the necessity for stable democratic norms and rule of law for candidate nations. There’s a bunch of others, economic and otherwise (such as human rights and the abandonment of the death penalty) which they’d have a hard job meeting but that first one is the biggest hurdle, it’s what kept Spain under Franco and Greece under the Generals out of the EU (previously the EEC) for so long, and Portugal out even longer for the same reasons. Since then being in the EU has encouraged the nascent democracies to flourish to the point that few remember how it used to be in those countries.

  83. 83
    patrick II says:

    @Amir Khalid:
    I’m old and still use old words sometimes.

    @Adam L Silverman:
    Thanks you for your response.

    @John Revolta:
    “Don’t do anything stupid” seems about right.

  84. 84
    Corner Stone says:

    @Robert Sneddon:

    Cowboy diplomacy in the Middle East does not have a good record.

    I beg your pardon! I have a Mr. Sykes-Picot on line 1 for you, sir.

  85. 85
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Corner Stone: Sykes-Picot had buggerall to do with Turkey’s borders which the Turks themselves defended from Winston Churchill’s Great ANZAC Adventure et al quite nicely. The US seems aggrieved the Turks are also defending themselves against Kurdish terrorists (as they see them, they don’t really differentiate between the various Kurdish military groupings). The US charged into Afghanistan to defeat Al-queda, the Turks think they can do the same in Syria and they’re advising the nation protecting their targets there to get out of the way much as Cowboy George W the Third did back in 2002.

  86. 86
    Another Scott says:

    I haven’t read all the replies yet. I agree that Erdogan’s EU membership demands are not happening anytime soon.

    But I wonder about the status of the EU’s 3B euro payment to Turkey to keep refugees from flooding the EU.

    Erdogan always seem to have maximal demands. He demanded Gulen back, and ordered his goons to beat up peaceful protestors in DC. He demanded EU membership. He demanded that Russia to stay out of his air space or be shot down. He demands the power to fire and imprison anyone he (and he alone) calls a Gulenist. But most of all, he wants unfettered power to do whatever he wants with the Kurds no matter where they are.

    I suspect Erdogan won’t get all he demands. And he’ll take that as a victory.

    But he’s going to keep making demands until there is substantial pushback against him. He’s crushed the press and all (real or imagined) political opposition inside Turkey. The EU needs to expect that he’s going to want more money from them or he’s going to stir things up in Syria and elsewhere to drive more refugees into EU countries.

    He’s not going to stop willingly. He’s a continuing danger to Turkey, the Kurds, as well as NATO, the EU, and (the little remaining) stability in the region. Governments need to be making plans…

    My $0.02.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  87. 87

    @Adam L Silverman: They definitely did. I was in Turkey a few years ago and the Turks were still irate about it.

  88. 88
    Corner Stone says:

    @Robert Sneddon: Then it’s a good thing I was responding to “Middle East” and not “Turkey”.

  89. 89
    Another Scott says:

    @Robert Sneddon: I’m no expert on Turkey, but it seems to me that your presentation does not sufficiently address Erdogan’s role since (at least) the June 2015 election. There was a hung parliamentary result; the AKP party lost its majority and several other parties – including those with support in the Kurdish regions – increased their seats.

    Erdogan was furious at the results, and helped drive anti-Kurdish and pro-Erdogan hysteria, and a breakdown of the previous ceasefire, etc., etc. that gave his party a majority of the seats (with less than half of the popular votes) in the November election:

    he election took place amid security concerns after ceasefire negotiations between the government and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels collapsed in July, causing a resumption in separatist conflict in the predominately Kurdish south-east of the country. Close to 150 security personnel lost their lives in the ensuing conflict, causing tensions between Turkish and Kurdish nationalists and raising security concerns over whether an election could have been peacefully conducted in the south-east, where conditions were described as a ‘worsening bloodshed’ by observers.[6][7][8] Critics accused the government of deliberately sparking the conflict in order to win back votes it had lost to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and decrease the turnout in Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) strongholds.[9][10][11][12][13] The election was preceded by the deadliest terrorist attack in Turkey’s modern history, after two suicide bombers killed 102 people attending a peace rally in central Ankara.[14] Numerous political parties, notably the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), ended up either entirely cancelling or significantly toning down their election campaigns following the attack. Fehmi Demir, the leader of the Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR), was killed in a traffic accident six days before the election.[15]

    Amid speculation that the election would likely result in a second hung parliament, pollsters and commentators were found to have drastically underestimated the AKP vote, which bore resemblance to their record 2011 election victory.[16][17] With 49.5% of the vote and 317 seats, the party won a comfortable majority of 84, while the CHP retained its main opposition status with 134 seats and 25.4% of the vote. The results were widely seen as a ‘shock’ win for the AKP and was hailed as a massive personal victory for President Erdoğan.[18][19] The MHP and the HDP both saw decreases in support, with both hovering dangerously close to the 10% election threshold needed to win seats. The MHP, which was seen to have been punished for its perceivably unconstructive stance since June, halved their parliamentary representation from 80 to 40 and won 11.9% of the vote, while the HDP came third in terms of seats with 59 MPs despite coming fourth in terms of votes with 10.7%.[20] The elections were broadly regarded as free and fair but were overshadowed by the violence between the Turkish state and the PKK, with concern that the electoral victory may embolden President Erdogan to further crackdown upon free speech.[21]

    And in the end, a lot more than free speech was cracked down upon by Erdogan… :-(

    It’s fine an understandable that countries in the region do not want an independent Kurdistan. But by crushing the possibility of democratic representation of Kurdish concerns in parliament, they continue the conflict. Seemingly by design, in Erdogan’s case…

    My $0.02.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  90. 90
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Sister Golden Bear: The Turks had democratic government systems that would have met EU expansion criteria, with the exception of the military overseers who maintained Attaturk’s legacy, coming out of the barracks and shooting people who thought an Islamic State in Turkey was a good idea before going back to their barracks while fresh elections were held. They couldn’t or wouldn’t give that up so no EU accession, in the same way that Franco’s Spain had to wait until the new Monarchy that followed his death signed off on a British-style elected government with a hereditary and powerless Head of State before they would even be considered for membership. We will ignore the other major problem of getting Greece to agree to Turkish membership happening (accession requires all member states to agree, one black-ball = no accession). There were still the human rights problems and the death penalty but they could maybe have been worked on. Now they’ve got a Strong Man, negligible democracy, bad human rights and so they’re even further away from accession.

    Economic convergence criteria (is their economy up to snuff?) was another big stumbling block, and continues to this day. They thought they had a right to join the EU rather than realising the other members have to want you to join which is a lot more difficult to agree to.

  91. 91
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Another Scott: Terrorist violence is designed to heighten tension and drive the other side to more and more extreme measures in response. “You’re either for us or against us”, as one Western leader famously announced after a single limited terrorist attack. The PKK and some other splinter groups have been seeking a Kurdish homeland, a nation state for at least thirty years now resulting in a death toll in, as I recall, six figures as the authorities of the existing nation-state cracked down on them and their fellow Kurds causing more support for the militants and so on. It’s an old story, even in well-established democracies since anyone who’s not tough against terrorists won’t get elected by the terrorised. Often the end result is a Strong Man who is supported by a large part of the population in whatever actions he takes to stop the terrorists (see for example the Western leader I quoted above who enjoyed national popularity levels of 90% at one time and who rode that popularity into launching not one but two all-out invasions of other countries at a ruinous cost).

  92. 92
    Another Scott says:

    @Robert Sneddon: Of course. And that’s why Erdogan did what he did when parties opposed to the AKP and to him won more seats than expected in the June election. He helped provoke a breakdown of the cease-fire, then used that as excuse for more repression in the Kurdish regions – which had the side benefit of decreasing voter turnout in those regions and increasing his party’s victory. By design.

    I have no illusions that the PKK and others want a separate Kurdish state and are willing to use violence to get it. But Erdogan took every opportunity to make things worse when he could have made things better. By design. Because it increased his personal power.

    Remember when Ocalan renounced violence?

    Remember when Erdogan held peace talks with the PKK?. It all seemed to be a ruse on his part, with the benefit of hindsight…

    It’s a complicated problem, and neither side are angels. But the US’s interests are not aligned with Erdogan’s and we cannot forget that.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  93. 93
    Stan says:

    @Robert Sneddon:

    Turkey which has been a unitary nation-state for a century now since Attaturk and has spent blood and treasure ever since defending those borders

    Good point to go back to the 1920s, but, I was under the impression that Turkey has never really been satisfied with its borders and would happily expand a bit. But I will certainly agree this has to go back at least that far.

  94. 94
    Stan says:

    @Robert Sneddon:

    Sykes-Picot had buggerall to do with Turkey’s borders which the Turks themselves defended from Winston Churchill’s Great ANZAC Adventure et al quite nicely.

    But that wasn’t modern Turkey at all. That was the Ottoman empire. Gallipoli was in 1915-16. Modern Turkey fought hard to establish their current borders and ethnic makeup (“encouraging” Greeks to leave for example) but that’s nothing to do with Gallipoli. That’s 1918-1920s.

  95. 95
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Another Scott:

    But the US’s interests are not aligned with Erdogan’s and we cannot forget that.

    The US’s interest seem to be aligned with a Kurdish military group in Syria for some reason. Why, I don’t know. It may be Creeping Featurism, as in it seemed like a good idea to meddle in the region’s affairs and helping out just one little group of pissed-off-folks-with-guns wouldn’t hurt, would it?

    The world was aghast at the idea of Islamic State coming into existence as a real nation-state in that area but only, it seems, because it was a repressive Stone-Age theocracy that was generally nasty, brutish and short. A lot of folks who live eight thousand kilometres from the shooting risking nothing personally are really keen on the idea of a Kurdish nation-state in that area because, brave Mujahadeen fighting the evil repressive Soviets uh, wait that was 1980s Afghanistan wasn’t it? sorry the Kurds, the brave Kurds! who are fighting the evil repressive nation-state of popularly-elected Strong Man Erdogan. They’re White Hats, surely this time we won’t get it wrong. If not it’s no skin off our nose.

  96. 96
    Another Scott says:

    @Robert Sneddon: Cartoonish characterizations are cartoonish.

    :-/

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  97. 97
    JGabriel says:

    @Tehanu:

    I’d be astonished to learn that anyone outside our borders trusts us now.

    You and me both, Tehanu. You and me both.

  98. 98
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @Brachiator:

    We betrayed the Iraqi Kurds. Now we are betraying the Syrian Kurds.

    Pretty soon we will run out of Kurds.

    No whey this ends well

  99. 99
    Brachiator says:

    @Steve in the ATL:

    No whey this ends well

    I did my best to avoid that pun, but thank you for taking up the challenge.

  100. 100
    Brachiator says:

    @Robert Sneddon:

    Sykes-Picot had buggerall to do with Turkey’s borders which the Turks themselves defended from Winston Churchill’s Great ANZAC Adventure et al quite nicely.

    True enough. But memories linger. From the Wiki…

    The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claims one of the goals of its insurgency is to reverse the effects of the Sykes–Picot Agreement. “This is not the first border we will break, we will break other borders,” a jihadist from the ISIL warned in a video titled End of Sykes-Picot. ISIL’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in a July 2014 speech at the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, vowed that “this blessed advance will not stop until we hit the last nail in the coffin of the Sykes–Picot conspiracy”. The Franco-German geographer Christophe Neff wrote that the geopolitical architecture founded by the Sykes–Picot Agreement disappeared in July 2014 and with it the relative protection of religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East.

  101. 101
    Mike in DC says:

    We should support the Kurds and refuse Turkey’s demands. Best option out of the bad ones available. Alternative is a resurgence of Assad and a ton of Kurdish refugees heading to Iraq and all points westward.

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