New Age Islam Edit Bureau
29 October 2015
'Islamic State': Let it not be a red herring
By Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psc (Retd)
The mythological Blair apology for the Iraq war
By Chris Doyle
Telling Mideast Negotiators, ‘Have a Nice Life’
By Thomas L. Friedman
Cameras at al-Aqsa Mosque
By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Saudis want a better quality of life
By Jamal Khashoggi
AKP Attempt at An Islamist-Fascist Dictatorship
By İhsan Yilmaz
How Will Turkey Respond To New Developments In Syria?
By Semih İdiz
Why Russia Perceives Syria as Its Front Line
By Alastair Crooke
'Islamic State': Let it not be a red herring
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psc (Retd)
October 29, 2015
There is certainly a deep conspiracy against this country going by the series of events that we have witnessed in the last one month. Of course the killings had to be well planned. No hit man would embark on his mission without a thorough planning. But a well planned killing does not necessarily indicate the existence of a conspiracy. One must establish specific motives to pinpoint the culprits and their aim. The million dollar question is: who are actually behind the killings and what might their purpose be.
Now that four persons have been arrested in this connection, the motives should become clear. If only one could identify the motives then perhaps one could put one's finger on the entire matter apart from identifying the people behind these incidents. But this is where all the problems reside. Let me explain.
If one were to go by the destabilisation theory, the motive, to make political gains, may be convincing enough to conclude that there is a political angle to the killings. And that would restrict our focus on internal actors only. But if one analyses the targets, one would find that the victims/targets were of different character. Two were foreigners (one had reportedly converted to Islam and was buried following Islamic ritual), two were religious figures, one among them a Christian cleric and the other a follower of a Sufi order. And this sort of killings one had also witnessed in the past. The killers of the bloggers, one might stress, were of the same inclination and disposition. And the latest target was the Ashura observance gathering that is generally, and perhaps wrongly, associated with Shias only.
Would one therefore be remiss to suggest that the perpetrators were of different hue and had different motivations? Is it a plausible argument that those behind the foreigners' killing were moved by considerations quite different from the ones behind the attack and killing of the religious personalities and the bloggers; that the latter exploited the current uncertain situation to their own ends using the alleged IS connection to deflect attention?
One could also argue that the perpetrators are one and the same, the aim being to destabilise the country and reap benefits, political and otherwise. Therefore, they wanted to exploit as many situations as possible to stimulate a law and order situation, that these two groups hold a common ideology and a common purpose and have coalesced in the killings.
In this context it may be appropriate to analyse the likely involvement of political parties, as some ruling party members are alleging, in the killings. It does not need a genius to say that it would be suicidal for an established political party, with substantial following, to resort to a strategy that does not guarantee its success to power but instead holds the recipe for a disastrous outcome for the country, in which it would also not come out unscathed. The party should have learnt a lesson from the violence it perpetrated early this year. However, one cannot put it past a party that is politically on the throes of extinction, having had its registration rescinded by the election commission, to resort to a line of action that would generate exactly such an outcome. They feel that uncertain situation in the country may help prolong its political existence and these are acts of desperation prodded by survival instinct.
But all the foregoing arguments go haywire with the alleged involvement of the IS in the matter. Yes, the IS seeks real estate to set up so called Islamic State. At present it controls an area larger than the UK, and has a large number of foot soldiers on ground. And although it aspires to territory unlike the Al-Qaeda, one wonders whether it has the manpower to move beyond the region that it holds now. And although there may be extremist elements in Bangladesh who are ideologically well disposed towards IS, is it likely to outsource its activity to groups that are not organically linked to it?
Therefore, the quick 'acknowledgment' of the killings by the IS, the method of which does not fit the IS footprint, raises doubts about the veracity of the post.
Let the IS issue not be a red herring. As we have said previously, the extremist organisation should not prevail over the minds of the investigators. They should focus on identifying the planners. If an IS link is found in the process that's ok, if not, so much the better. An open mind leads to sound conclusions.
Shahedul Anam Khan is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.
The mythological Blair apology for the Iraq war
28 October 2015
Tony Blair did not, repeat did not, say sorry for the Iraq war. Tony Blair did not apologize for it, he did not say if he was sent back in time to 2003, he would not have the same thing. There was no ‘mea culpa’ for going to war.
He will never say sorry for the Iraq war so for those dreamily expecting this, wake up.
Days after his CNN interview, it is necessary to state this because if you google Blair and Iraq you are inundated with links to articles saying that Blair had made an apology. They myth has gone viral. 1-0 to the Spin Doctor-in-Chief.
Blair’s first apology was for something he was not directly responsible for and something he had already said before. “I apologize for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong.” He was given faulty intelligence, so it was not his fault in fact at all. He blames the intelligence services.
Apology number two was little better. “I also apologize for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.” He does not exclude himself from the blame but he certainly shares it out but only for ‘some’ of the mistakes note. Was it a mistake in understanding? Blair was clearly and expertly briefed by experts on Iraq about many of the consequences of an invasion and occupation that did actually arise. This included the consequences of a power vacuum, looting, sectarian tensions and greater Iranian influence. The reality was Blair did not want to listen. After all, it is crystal clear he had made a pact with President George Bush in April 2002 and was in no mood to entertain doubts.
His third non-apology was a most ground-breaking admission - that the war contributed to the rise of ISIS. “I think there are elements of truth in that…. Of course you can’t say those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015.”
And then a gross distortion that barely any commentator picked up on. In a rewriting of history and the facts, Blair claimed that “ISIS actually came to prominence from a base in Syria and not in Iraq.”
ISIS originated, flourished and expanded from Iraq with its core leadership being Iraqi. It was dependent to a large extent on an alliance with disgruntled ex-Saddam era Ba’athis like Izzat Ibrahim Al-Douri. Clearly it is convenient for Blair to cast ISIS as a Syria issue, so he was really saying that he does not bear much responsibility at all.
So let’s spin another mythological apology. Here is something you will never read or hear. This is what a heartfelt meaningful apology from Tony Blair might look like delivered to the Iraqi people, not to CNN.
“Today I have come to Baghdad, to the heart of Iraq, to set the record straight, something I should have done many years ago. This is tough for me to say but I know I must. To Iraqis, from all communities, all those who suffered as a result of the sanctions, the war and occupation, I am truly, deeply sorry.
I failed Iraq. Prior to the war, I should have done more to lift the sanctions in the U.N. Security Council. We should never have allowed a situation to arise where 5,000 children under the age of five were dying every month. It was not a price worth paying. We did have to restrict the power of the Saddam Hussein regime but should have found a way that did not devastate the lives of millions of Iraqi civilians. The intelligence on Iraq’s weapons was faulty but I did not question it, so convinced was I that Saddam had them and would use them again. We should have given the U.N. weapons inspectors more time to complete their work.
Let’s be clear - I had hoped that the removal of Saddam Hussein, the monster who had caused such devastation to Iraq and its people would bring more positive results. I did genuinely wish to see Iraqis living in their own free and democratic state.
But for that to happen, we had to deliver results that benefitted all Iraqis. We did not adequately prepare for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and for that, I am responsible. As Prime Minister, I should have demanded and ensured that this was the case. I clearly failed. Our planning was inept. In the past I have said we made a mistake, that the planning was “inadequate.” We did not provide the proper human, financial and technical resources to give Iraq a chance to get up and running. I was wrong to ignore the advice of British experts on Iraq who did actually predict with all too chilling accuracy what would happen. We did not “safeguard the wealth of the country for the future prosperity of the people” as I stated in Parliament was one of our aims. I should have directly and even publicly challenged a U.S. administration many of whose leading lights advanced ideological views that were both flawed and dangerous. The dishing out of contracts to private companies and security firms making lavish profits from Iraqi funds was something I did nothing to stop. This was a war that cost over a trillion dollars but most of that was frittered away. I did not use British leverage and influence enough with our American partners. We should have pushed harder for a greater U.N. role in Iraq but I conceded too easily.”
Neither will Blair make such an apology, nor will many accept it. Blair aside, there are many others, George Bush, included who should own up to their own sorry part in this. They have yet to do so.
In the meantime perhaps Mr. Blair could take the advice of the former Chief of Staff, Lord Dannatt, and maintain 'a dignified silence' until the Iraq inquiry reports whenever that will be. Blair will be hoping it will never happen, a bit like his apology.
Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
Telling Mideast Negotiators, ‘Have a Nice Life’
Thomas L. Friedman
OCT. 28, 2015
In the Times review of the American Mideast negotiator Dennis Ross’s important new history of Israeli-U.S. relations, “Doomed to Succeed,” a telling moment on the eve of the 1991 Madrid peace conference caught my attention. The Palestinian delegation had raised some last-minute reservations with the secretary of state, James A. Baker III. Baker was livid, and told the Palestinians before walking out on them: “With you people, the souk never closes, but it is closed with me. Have a nice life.”
I was struck because that kind of straight talk has been all too absent from U.S. Middle East diplomacy lately. Israelis and Palestinians — way too long at war — are trapped in political hothouses of their own making, incapable of surprising each other with anything positive, and desperately in need of a friendly third-party dose of common sense.
Listening to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel claim last week that the Palestinian grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini — who met Hitler in the early 1940s — gave Hitler the idea for mass murdering all the Jews, you can only conclude that Bibi is in a sealed bubble, with no one around him able to say: “You know Bibi, that is probably historically false. You might want to keep that one to yourself.”
We forget how much the parties need America at times to play the reality principle to break the paralysis in their internal politics. Sometimes their leaders need to say to their cabinets: “I would never agree to this, but those damn Americans broke my arm. See it dangling here! It’s broken! I had to say yes!” Israeli and Palestinian internal politics are brutal. As Baker learned, if you don’t get in their faces on a regular basis, you’re listed as “nap time” on their daily schedules.
What would such a U.S. message sound like today? It would start by saying publicly to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, “You rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s unprecedented September 2008 offer of a two-state solution, in which, as The Jerusalem Post later reported, ‘Olmert essentially agreed to forgo sovereignty of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest site, and proposed that in the framework of a peace agreement, the area containing the religious sites in Jerusalem would be managed by a special committee … from five nations: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, the United States and Israel.’
“The Post also said, ‘Olmert laid out for [Abbas] … a large map upon which he outlined the borders of the future Palestinian state,’ which included a roughly equal swap of Palestinian land in the West Bank to house Israeli settlements in return for parts of Israel.
“Abbas, Olmert is still waiting for your answer.
“It’s clear that with the Palestinians now split between Hamas-led Gaza and your Fatah-led West Bank, there is no single, legitimate Palestinian Authority to formally approve a comprehensive peace deal. And it is also true that you have been committed to nonviolence — and bless you for that. But where is your creative plan for an interim solution that can at least move the process forward? Why do you just sit there like Buddha, rejecting creative ideas like the one put forward by Secretary of State John Kerry?”
As for Netanyahu, the blunt U.S. message might be: “You are going to be a historic figure: the Israeli leader who left Israel with nothing other than a one-state solution, in which Israel will gradually give up being Jewish or democratic. We know exactly what a one-state solution looks like. Just look out your window: Palestinians grabbing a kitchen knife and stabbing any Israeli Jew, and masked settler vigilantes retaliating back.”
I visited Monday with Israel’s very decent defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon. Hearing him describe Israel’s strategic theater is hair-raising: The nation has nonstate actors, dressed as civilians, armed with rockets, nested among civilians, on four of five borders — Sinai, Gaza, Lebanon and Syria — and he does not want to chance opening a fifth one by just evacuating the West Bank. I get it.
But there has to be some alternative to doing nothing or doing everything. It needs to be an alternative that at least tests Palestinians to really control some territory — and creates some hope that the two communities can separate securely. And it has to involve Israel at least stopping all settlement-building in the heart of the West Bank, in the areas long designated for a Palestinian state. Some 70,000 of Israel’s 400,000 settlers now live in those areas, and it’s making any separation increasingly impossible.
This is what Israel’s friends are missing. Israel has so much creative energy — in science, tech and medicine. But you don’t see it today in diplomacy. It’s true that Israel can survive this war of the knives. But will it thrive? Will it remain a place where you will want to visit and raise your kids?
It may be that Israel has no choice.
But Israel is a really powerful country. It’s not a disarmed Costa Rica. No one expects it to give up everything. But fewer and fewer can understand why it puts so much energy into explaining why it can’t do anything, why the Palestinians are irredeemably awful and why nothing Israel could do would affect their behavior. I truly worry that Israel is slowly committing suicide, with all the best arguments.
Cameras at al-Aqsa Mosque
28 October 2015
Recent escalation between the Palestinians and Israelis has made U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry mediate and suggest the idea of installing surveillance cameras at al-Aqsa compound for the purpose of ending clashes.
The cameras, however, will certainly not resolve the source of the tensions, which is Israel's occupation of eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank since the 1967 war. These cameras will not solve the problem; the mosque and its surroundings will continue to be an on-and-off battlefield as long as the occupation continues.
At least 50 Palestinians and 10 Israelis have been killed during the violence seen in the past month, known as the “revolution of knives,” which Jews had prompted by entering al-Aqsa Mosque. Clashes erupted amid Palestinian fears of Jewish groups increasing their visits to the compound, and the situation has been tense since then.
The installation of surveillance cameras has led some to openly object to the move, but the real threat is deeper than that. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's threat to revoke the residency of more than 100,000 Jerusalemites - if he dares do so - will be detrimental to the situation in the holy land.
Along with this, the recent international escalation of the situation may aim to eventually get rid of whatever is left of Palestinian Jerusalemites.
Israel is now targeting Palestinians after it succeeded in occupying West Bank areas in the past few decades by resorting to several excuses, such as categorizing certain lands as "security zones" or claiming residents had no ownership. Israeli authorities would also cut off water to Palestinians or turn a blind eye to Jewish settlers attacking them. This is in addition to building settlements and expanding on occupied territories.
Unfortunately, the region’s civil wars and the spread of terrorism have allowed the Palestinian cause to become among the international community’s lesser concerns. Many major events have piled up against the interests of the Palestinians who are experiencing a crisis more marginalizing and deteriorating than ever. What has further worsened their situation has been divisions among their leaders, obstructing all peace initiative opportunities.
One of the rare positive aspects here may be Iran's probable exit from its struggle with the United States, thanks to the nuclear deal. The Iranian and Syrian regimes have long exploited the Palestinian cause to serve their interests. Tehran, for example, managed to achieve its aim when it signed the nuclear deal. The Iranian and Syrian exit from the "Palestinian game" may constitute an opportunity to restore the Palestinians’ rights to make decisions towards an independent state and comprehensive peace.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.
Saudis want a better quality of life
28 October 2015
The Saudi cabinet’s approval of a bill to impose taxes on undeveloped urban land, has revived interests in local affairs that were overshadowed by the conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. This decision will alter the rules of housing and livelihood without burdening the government budget. It will decrease citizens’ cost of living, and redistribute wealth that has for decades been controlled by rich monopolists.
Saudis are patient, but we must not bet on that. It is enough to take a tour of Riyadh or Jeddah to hear citizens’ complaints regarding the quality of services provided by local administrations.
Time has come to admit that quality of life does not meet the expectations of citizens. This is attested by the millions of Saudis who travel to other countries for their vacations. Local newspapers estimate that 5-8 million Saudi tourists - more than a quarter of the kingdom’s population - spent some $60 billion abroad last summer. Most of those who do not travel abroad for tourism wish they could afford to do so.
Saudi cities are no longer comfortable or enjoyable. Traffic jams are unbearable, and there are no parks or playgrounds. Buildings are very close together, and their locations are not properly planned as commercial entities are moving deep into residential arias . This makes it impossible to find a parking space in front of your house.
Jeddah’s municipality has become incapable of managing, providing or developing basic services. It is even incapable of removing old neglected cars and rubble from its streets, or of covering sewage slots, that waiting until someone falls into one of them? It is time for Saudi cities to progress from a mere state of living to a better quality of life.
The housing crisis and increased land prices have resulted in turning a blind eye to height-restriction laws. This in addition to not taking into account basic requirements that a first-year student in urban planning knows, such as providing parking lots and spaces for gardens and playgrounds, and separating residential and commercial spaces by applying basic zoning rules . Some eastern Jeddah neighborhoods are alarmingly crammed, and their situation is worsening due to lack of planning.
This is the case for all Saudi cities. The public relations manager in Jeddah’s municipality may reply to my article via an elaborate letter detailing the massive costly projects executed by them . But why do the billions spent on these projects fail to reflect the city’s quality of life?
Opinion polls indicate that most Saudis are reluctant about democracy and are not demanding it, but they certainly want a better life. A better life starts by reducing the size of Saudi cities, which expand for no logical economic benefits. If local administrations are incapable of providing services in existing neighborhoods, why are they making plans for new ones?
Construction in the three biggest cities - Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam - has reached up to 50 kilometers away from the city center, which has many undeveloped spaces due to the monopolization of lands by the wealthy at zero cost. This is more lucrative than investing in gold, which needs guarding and preserving, and requires following up on the stock market and taking risks.
Many solutions have been suggested, such as the aforementioned bill to tax undeveloped urban land, which the government recently approved and the people celebrated. These taxes will contribute to solving part of the problem. The solution should be restoring Saudi society and economy to their ordinary state by driving foreigners out, specifically unskilled cheap labor. This is not a racist stance, but a social and economic solution.
Cheap labor are not experts benefiting us with nanotechnology or solar energy. Most are unprofessional, and do not work in any significant industries. They also compete with Saudi citizens for housing and subsidized food and energy. The worst part is, they are denying young Saudi citizens the chance to acquire work experience.
This has created a dilemma. A Saudi employer complains that a citizen lacks experience and skills, while the citizen complains that he cannot find a job to acquire skills. In the end, the employer prefers to hire a foreign laborer because he has the required skills and accepts a wage lower than the Saudi. So the solution is to remove the foreigner from the equation.
The funds spent by Jeddah on constructing bridges and tunnels are more than that spent by the London and Paris municipalities combined. However, Jeddah still suffers from traffic jams. Therefore, we must develop solutions other than building more bridges and tunnels.
What is needed is a strict system that provides parking spaces, and separates residential and commercial spaces. Decreasing the price of land, due to taxing undeveloped urban areas, will constitute a source of income for the government, and will allow municipalities to turn the undeveloped land into gardens and playgrounds for children and youths, who constitute the majority of the kingdom’s residents.
More importantly, popular participation should be encouraged via neighborhood councils and elected local councils. This allows citizens to interact with the state, and revives the culture of neighborhoods.
On Dec. 28, a second round of municipal elections will be held, and although council jurisdictions have been enhanced a little, further enhancement would allow the inclusion of citizens in the process of holding officials accountable. This will restore the trust of citizens, many of whom did not register to vote in the upcoming municipal elections, because they feel that those who represent them have done very little.
The citizen’s word is the most important, so it is time to say the people want a better quality of life.
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels. Twitter: @JKhashoggi
AKP Attempt at An Islamist-Fascist Dictatorship
By İhsan Yilmaz
October 28, 2015
About two months ago, I published a piece here titled “Rise of fascism and Greenshirts in Turkey.”
Some of you might have found it a little bit exaggerated. After the unconstitutional conquest of İpek Media Group TV stations and newspapers by Justice and Development Party (AKP) figures, let me revisit my piece and elaborate on it further.
I gave a definition of fascism in the piece, and wrote that “fascism is a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints, goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”
I then added that “...its type of a newly emerging Blackshirts (the paramilitary group of Mussolini) and Brownshirts (Hitler's paramilitary mobs). The primary purposes of the Brownshirts were: ‘providing protection for Nazi rallies and assemblies, disrupting the meetings of opposing parties, fighting against the paramilitary units of the opposing parties and intimidating Slavic and Romani citizens, unionists, and Jews.' The AKP version should, of course, be called the Greenshirts!”
Then, I warned that “the opposition media has been threatened. Samanyolu TV, Zaman, Bugün TV and the Bugün daily could directly be seized on baseless grounds of terrorism. The AKP is calculating that not many people in Turkey and in the West would be bothered about it because of these media outlets' affiliation with the Hizmet movement.” Well, I was wrong on one point: Despite my pessimistic expectation, the opposition in Turkey, which amounts to 60 percent of the vote, is up in arms and strongly behind the İpek Media Group. This may even be a first in Turkey and wonderful news for the consolidation of democracy in the medium run. But let me return to my warning that the AKP had been trying to establish an Islamist-fascist regime in Turkey. As you can see, it is trying to destroy all the opposition media outlets one by one, by sheer police force and by injuring journalists.
It is wrong to expect that whatever is happening in Turkey must be identical to 1930s Italy and Germany in order to describe what is happening in Turkey as the emergence and rise of fascism. There are, of course, spatial and temporal differences. Yet, the general expectations of fascists are similar: relying on popular support, trying to create a one-man regime and suppressing the opposition not just with punitive and ideological state apparatuses, but also para-militaristic, pseudo-civilian youth organizations. The fact that acting Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has been seen shoulder to shoulder with the chief of the AKP youth branch who raided the Hurriyet daily along with his comrades and caused physical harm is a testament to this phenomenon.
Does Turkey have a fascist regime now? Of course not. It is not so easy. We still have judges and prosecutors who do not succumb to the dictatorial desires of the AKP. The opposition is still alive and kicking. It is unfortunate to say this, but the army is widely seen to be a last brake against a full-fledged fascist regime. Yet, saying all these things do not negate the fact that AKP leaders are desperately trying to establish a bizarre Islamist-fascist regime in order to stay away from judicial, political and public scrutiny for corruption crimes.
The definition of the term dictatorship is given as: “a form of government where political authority is monopolized by a person or political entity, and exercised through various mechanisms to ensure the entity's power remains strong. In dictatorships, politicians regulate nearly every aspect of the public and private behavior of normal people. Dictatorships and totalitarianism generally employ political propaganda to decrease the influence of proponents of alternative governing systems.”
If we combine this definition with my above analysis, we can conclude that the AKP is “trying” to establish an Islamist-fascist dictatorship. This, most probably, was not their original intention. But since they were caught red-handed by the judiciary on very serious corruption crimes, they thought that this was their only option. Now, they are trying to establish an Islamist-fascist dictatorship. The fact that Turkey is not and will never be such a dictatorship is another story. The only problem is, the AKP does not know this right now and it will only learn it by experience, which will be a very costly one for Turkey.
How Will Turkey Respond To New Developments In Syria?
By Semih İdiz
Developments in Syria in general, and the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in particular, are moving fast since Russia decided to get openly involved to support President Bashar al-Assad with its military.
The invitation to Iran to the international talks on Syria is one such development. Another one is the latest remarks to the Senate Armed Services Committee by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter indicating that Washington is preparing to get actively involved against ISIL on the ground in Syria.
This confirms that the U.S.-led air campaign against ISIL has not provided the expected results. We also know that the “train and equip program” turned out to be a fiasco after Syrians “trained and equipped” in Turkey were routed by radical Islamic groups as soon as they entered Syria.
Recent reports on U.S. and Iraqi forces storming an ISIL stronghold in Iraq and releasing hundreds of prisoners is also highly significant. Clearly Washington does not want to lose more ground to Russia, which has grabbed the initiative in Syria.
Turkey is preoccupied currently with what may be one of the most critical elections in the country’s history, and has little time to focus on such developments. Even Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s revelation on a pro-government channel that Turkey had struck Democratic Union Party (PYD) forces in northern Syria received little coverage.
Davutoğlu’s remarks might be no more than bluster on the eve of elections, of course. If true, however, Turkey can expect turbulence in its ties with the U.S. which is moving toward deepening its involvement in Syria by working closer with the PYD. Davutoğlu’s remarks could also deepen Turkey’s growing impasse with its own Kurds.
The bottom line here is that Ankara continues to row against strong international currents, even if it is determined to stop the Syrian Kurds from gaining an area for themselves along its border. It is not unthinkable either that there are those in this country who support the idea of assisting radical groups fighting the PYD.
Put another way, Turkey is not in the role of a “maker” here but of a “spoiler.” If it cannot get what it wants, it will try to spoil what is emerging. This position, however, could come at a high cost in the long run.
Iran’s invitation to the talks on Syria to be held in Vienna tomorrow is also a development that is displeasing to Ankara at first glance. Russia and Iran will promote a line at these meetings which is contrary to Ankara’s thinking for the future of Syria.
But Turkey is not in a position to be a spoiler in this regard, and the fact that it has more or less accepted that al-Assad has a role to play in any transition period in Syria attests to this.
Just as there are overlapping interests between the U.S. and Russia in Syria – particularly on the question of ISIL – even though they are in the throes of a new cold war, Ankara and Tehran have overlapping interests also in terms of the Syrian Kurds, even if they are at loggerheads over al-Assad.
Retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ, the former chief of the General Staff, was quoted in the papers on Tuesday as saying that Turkey and Iran are the only two regional powers that can prevent the emergence of a greater Kurdistan, which as he pointed out, Tehran is also vehemently opposed to.
Ankara’s single-dimensional Syrian policy, which has been marked with failures, is unsustainable and requires flexible thinking according to developments on the ground. A new look at ties with Iran is also needed now.
How Ankara hopes to dig itself out of the weak position it has landed in with regard to regional crises should become more apparent after the elections on Nov. 1. What is clear at this stage, though, is that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has left Turkey with little room to maneuver in the face of important developments on its borders.
Why Russia Perceives Syria as Its Front Line
By Alastair Crooke
BEIRUT -- Russia believes that it sees the situation of the Middle East very plainly. Vladimir Putin sees nation-states across the region weakening and eroding: Iraq fractured, Syria in conflict, Lebanon without a state, Yemen in anarchy, Libya in chaos -- North Africa in general is vulnerable -- Saudi Arabia seized by multiple crises. Unless the Islamic State and its Wahhabi allies are stopped -- and stopped decisively -- the region is in danger of descending into even deeper chaos. Syria is Russia's veritable front line. Russia recalls how, after the Afghan war, radical Wahhabi-style Islam spread out from Afghanistan and reached up into Central Asia. Russia also recalls how the CIA and Saudi Arabia inflamed and used the Chechen insurgency to weaken Russia.
Why Syria? Is it because of Russia's interests there? No, it is because Syria has an effective leadership and an army that is already engaged in the war againstWahhabism. In effect, Syria is the pivot around which this "war" will turn.
But equally, President Putin shares the perception of many in the region that America and its allies are not serious about defeating ISIS. And sensing that the West was finally about to be lured by Turkey toward a no-fly zone -- which would only end, as it did in Libya, in chaos -- Putin played his surprise hand: he entered the war on "terrorism," blocked Turkey's project to "re-Ottomanize" northern Syria and challenged the West to join with him in the venture.
In so doing, he has very evidently kept the door open to the U.S. -- inviting it repeatedly to join him, though perhaps expecting that the U.S. initially would have to back off -- because of its ties to the Gulf.
Putin's strategy for Syria is essentially that a political settlement would not be forthcoming by simply herding sworn enemies into a room together in Geneva. The earlier U.S. precondition that Assad's ouster was mandatory before talks gave zero incentive for the opposition to seriously negotiate any sharing of power with the state: rather, they simply had to wait upon the U.S. and its allies to hand them a vacated state on a silver plate.
Putin, on the other hand, has calculated that a political settlement can only be effected by force of arms: the dominant, noxious influence of the jihadists has to be excised before "reconcilables" (in Rumsfeldian terminology) will have the confidence to offer themselves for participation. In short, whereas the West sees Russian force of arms as somehow inimical to a political settlement, Putin -- and Assad -- say that the jihadist dominance is what actually precludes the possibility of a political outcome.
Putin's recent invitation to President Assad to visit Moscow seems to have been designed to underline two things: that President Assad is indeed committed to political reform and to debunk any thought that Russia might see President Assad as somehow a discretionary, discardable component to a political solution.
It seems for now that the U.S. administration will leave the heavy lifting in Syria to Russia. It will wait and watch whilst corralling an international coalition to pressure Russia to respect its interests in any political outcome. What seems, at present, to be inadequately appreciated in some quarters in the West is how credible and effective use of airpower, combined with the large, combat-experienced ground force that presently is being amassed, will alter facts on the ground. These facts, in turn, will dramatically alter the political equation. Quietly, the U.S. will probably expand its cooperation with Russia. It seems probable that President Putin expects no more than this at this stage. But if Syria is a success, he may hope that a Western partnership will subsequently flower when it comes time to turn to Iraq.
But the risk in all this is that the West will turn against Putin -- that perceptions will become locked in terms of the binary "liberal/illiberal" Cold War meme.
Then the meaning of Putin's Syria initiative will be lost, and escalated hostilities will ensue. Putin is not just forcing the Syria issue for Western policymakers. He is trying to force the issue of Russia's place in the world today, to burst free from the paradigm of post-war thinking in which Russia has found itself trapped. It is a gamble, because the gesture itself -- if successful -- will shape the Middle East and global geopolitics much more widely.
If it fails, the prevalent American domestic dynamics are that the U.S. is inevitably heading toward confrontation with Russia -- and with China. Too much homework has been invested in this China-Russia rapprochement by the latter for it to be easily unpicked by reverting to the old Kissinger triangulation doctrine of keeping Russia and China at odds with each other.
Putin is forcing the Syria issue, but he is also offering America a way out from the inevitable escalation with both Russia and China in the event of a new U.S. president being elected on a "strongman" ticket. And his initiative has given a profound shock to the Western military establishment. Russia had been presumed to lag behind the West in terms of conventional weaponry and its air platforms; that its military was somehow second class. But what also has become apparent in Putin's Syria gesture is the revolution that he has wrought in terms of reorganizing Russia's armed forces and upgrading its weapons since the war in Georgia in 2008.
Missiles Change the Equation
As Pepe Escobar recently noted, Russia has shown that it has not just caught up, but has possibly overtaken the U.S. in terms of missile technology, and that it has the ability to jam NATO command and control and guidance systems -- again on display in Syria:
The New Great Game in Eurasia advanced in leaps and bounds last week after Russia fired 26 cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea against 11 ISIS/ISIL/Daesh targets across Syria, destroying all of them. These naval strikes were the first known operational use of state-of-the-art SSN-30A Kalibr cruise missiles.
All it took for the Pentagon was a backward look over the shoulder at the flight path of those Kalibr missiles [which fly at an altitude of less than 100 meters] -- capable of striking targets 1,500 km away. Talk about a crisp, clear, succinct message from Moscow to the Pentagon and NATO. Wanna mess with us, boy? With your big, bulging aircraft carriers, maybe? [...]
The Pentagon is apoplectic because this display of Russian technology revealed the end of the American monopoly over long-range cruise missiles. Pentagon analysts were still working under the assumption their range was around 300 kilometers.
If the 4+1 coalition -- Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria, plus Hezbollah -- persists beyond Syria (with China hovering supportively behind), all those U.S. military bases and aircraft carriers surrounding Iran and planned for Eurasia become not only redundant -- they become vulnerable hostages. NATO can no longer even count on automatic air superiority. No wonder the U.S. has withdrawn its carrier from the Persian Gulf.
Putin's message on Syria therefore holds a centrality that goes well beyond the issue of whether some Syrian moderates were or were not killed whilst cooperating with Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Qaeda's Syrian branch, and the details of any transitional government in Syria. These are, as it were, the microcosm: Russia's military intervention intended to kick-start a political settlement. The macrocosm is Putin's repeated invitation to de-conflict with the West -- an offer underlined by surprising NATO with Russia showing its sizable new big stick.
This is the existential question being posed by President Putin: How may the U.S. manage the ending of its unipolar reign? Can Washington adjust to the insistence of the "non-West" to its right to be non-Western, in its manner of being? Can Wall Street adjust to the insistence of these states to "re-sovereignize" their economies from the reach of U.S. geo-financial hegemony?
The challenge to U.S. preeminence is as profound as that which faced Britain after World War II, when it was met with similar demands from its colonies on their right to aspire to their own place in the world. It was not well managed then, and resisted bitterly internally within Britain. Putin's outreach over Syria and Iraq should be understood -- beyond the issue of Syria itself -- as the offering of a path out from this confrontation with China and Russia that otherwise must ensue were America somehow not come to acknowledge new realities and differing visions of the future.
If this is not grasped, Mr. Putin understands that America, by default, will have set itself upon the road to confrontation with Russia and China. Perhaps we should take the news of Iran's possible inclusion -- an icon of the rights of the non-West to be non-Western -- in the Paris talks on the future of Syria as a positive signal that President Obama does indeed sense this need, and is proceeding cautiously (given the domestic constraints) to this end.
Thus the outcome in Syria will shape many, many things.